Chana Masala

Life’s been hectic! I constantly feel as if there are not enough hours in the day, even on weekends. Especially on weekends. I’m busy at work and in my personal life. Work intruded upon personal life this evening when I got home late. Waiting for me was an unhungry Smark, who confessed he’d filled up on tomato sandwiches all day. (We love tomato season in this household!) When Mark is not hungry or eating elsewhere, that ordinarily means Indian food, yay! But I was hungry and it was late, so I didn’t want to spend a long time making some authentic, perfectly spiced, slow cooked meal just for myself. What I did want to do, however, was use up the cooked chickpeas I had in the refrigerator, so I decided to make an easy, low-stress chana masala, which is Fortinbras’ favorite Indian meal. The “easy” part is that I didn’t measure any of the spices, although I’ve tried to estimate the amounts. Interestingly, midway through my meal, Mark showed up exclaiming, “that smells good; can I have some?” He then proceeded to have two servings, which he does every time I make Indian food. So how he can go around saying he doesn’t like Indian food is beyond me. Anyway, here’s what I did:

Chana Masala

3/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp asafoetida (this doesn’t usually go in channa masala, but I love the taste and even the smell of it; you can omit it)
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp (or to taste) cayenne pepper
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp amchoor (dried mango powder; can substitute lemon juice, which you would add at the end of the cooking time)
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground ginger (I was too lazy to use fresh, which I would ordinarily do)
1 tsp (or to taste) salt
4 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup frozen peas, optional (I like to have at least a bit of green in everything I make)

Heat some oil in a pot, like a Dutch oven, over medium high heat. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they begin to pop, then turn the heat down and add the fenugreek and cook for a few seconds or so. Then add the cumin seeds, garlic, and asafoetida (if using) and cook about a minute. Next, turn the heat back up a bit and add the onions, turmeric, and cayenne and cook for about 7 or 8 minutes, or until the onions are well-cooked. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, amchoor, garam masala, paprika, ginger, and salt, and about half a (tomato) can of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes are starting to break down. Add the chickpeas and cook for about 30 minutes, adding a half-cup or so of water if it gets too dry. Adjust the seasonings. If using, add the peas and cook until they are heated through. If you don’t have amchoor, add some lemon juice for tang.

I served it with roti.

Wow, I feel I’ve posted so infrequently this busy summer that we need to catch up! I made my first batch of beer and it was really good! So good I wish I’d made a lot more than a gallon. I’ve also been baking bread from the spent grains, which I’ve been dying to do ever since Peter Reinhart raved about it in Whole Grain Breads. I tried nagging the few people I know who have made beer before to make some more so I could have the grains, but finally I decided to just make my own damn beer! I can’t wait to make more. Any fellow brewers out there?

I got my copy of Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food and I can’t wait to make everything in it! If I use it half as frequently as I use the original Papa Tofu, it’ll be worth far more than I spent on it. If you love Ethiopian food, you will love this zine. If you’ve never had Ethiopian food, now’s the time to find out what you’ve been missing!.

Mark has taken an interest in cooking and been making our Sunday meals for a couple of weeks now, which is nice because I’ve been so busy, especially on Sundays. He kept declining my requests to do a post until he surprised himself with his awesome summer roll-making skills yesterday and announced he may do a post after all. He submitted what he described as “the first chapter” of his upcoming post to me today and all I can say is, um, prepare yourselves. I’m not sure what you should do to prepare yourselves, but you may want to brew your own batch of beer and drink a few before attempting to read Mark’s manifesto theory of the universe science fiction novel recipe for summer rolls. In the meantime, here is his first Sunday meal: nutloaf.

Torticia is fat! She doesn’t overeat, so I’ve been trying to make her exercise more, with varying degrees of success. One thing I do is play “the food game” with them. The rules of this game are I throw pieces of dry food across the floor and they have to run after it and eat it. Their little chomping of each tiny bit of kibble reminds me of Pac-Man. They love this game and demand to play it several times a day. I try to get Tortilla Chip to run up and down the stairs as much as I can.

Gomez waits patiently.

She’s fat, but she can run.

And now, for your enjoyment, here are some pictures of raccoons, who are responsible for taking up a lot of my precious time, not that I’m complaining:

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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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Mexican Breakfast

I really need to get to the grocery store today. I’ve been complaining for two days that there is no food in the house. Of course, that’s a ridiculous statement. There is a ton of food in the house. But, in a way that annoys a lot of people – in particular Mark and Fortinbras – all of my food takes the form of ingredients. I rarely have pre-packaged foods around. So if you are hungry, you actually have to make something. From scratch. Sometimes it even annoys me, honestly, though not usually. Anyway, I always have a ton of grains, tinned tomatoes, flour, dried beans, etc. You would not actually starve if trapped in my house for a month or two with no access to a grocery store. But it’s when I have no fresh vegetables around that I start saying I have no food. I’m kind of at a loss at what to do without fresh vegetables as a starting point. Mark kindly went out and got us some dinner from the Whole Foods salad bars last night as I was going out later and didn’t have time to contemplate how to deal with this situation, or just solve it by doing the shopping.

But this morning I was again confronted with the problem. What I did have on hand, though, was a bunch of leftover ingredients from meals earlier in the week. I had some pinto beans, nutritional yeast “cheese”, and half a tin of tomatoes. I got excited thinking, “tofu scramble!”, but alas, no tofu. So I started wondering what I could fry up in a skillet with those things instead of tofu. And concluded “rice”. So I put some rice in the rice cooker and started prepping. What resulted probably wasn’t anything most Americans would consider a very breakfasty food, but I’ve called it breakfast because I ate it as breakfast. It would really be appropriate and tasty any time of day. And anyway, the time of day I ate it was noon, so I guess it was more lunch or brunch. Whatever. I called it breakfast, I photographed it, I ate it, it was good, Mark liked it, I’m sharing it.

Mexican Breakfast

1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1 or 2 pickled jalapenos, chopped
1 cup diced or crushed tomatoes
1 cup cooked pinto beans (black beans would also be good)
1 cup broth
1/2 – 1 cup Yeast Cheeze
3 or 4 cups cooked rice

diced avocado, optional
fresco sauce (this was some cilantro and serrano pepper sauce I got at Whole Foods), optional
Tabasco sauce, optional

In a large, preferably cast iron, skillet, heat some oil, then add the onions and fry for a few minutes, then add the bell pepper and fry another few minutes. Add the tomatoes, jalapenos, and pinto beans and saute a minute. Add the broth and cheeze, stirring to incorporate the two until they are smooth. Let the mixture become bubbly and thicken slightly. Stir in the rice. Top with avocado if you have it, and serve with fresco and/or Tabasco sauce.

In prior food news, I celebrated the new Vegan Pizza Day holiday on January 29 by making a new kind of pizza dough. I’m going to do a post on this crust very soon because it was gooooood.

Mark is sitting near me watching Mitch Hedberg videos and it’s making it very hard for me to concentrate on this post because I keep laughing. I will try to soldier on to bring you some kitten photos, though.

Gomez has a lot of nicknames. He’s Mez, Mezzie, Mezzikins, Mexicans. I mention this progression of names just because this post was about Mexican Breakfast. So here is Mexicans being extremely adorable.

His eyes are still both green and gold. I thought maybe the green would disappear as he got older, but he’s 11 months now and they still have the same depth of gorgeous colours as they did when he was a baby. They are really quite MEZmerizing. (I hilariate myself.)

Also, Torticia is often called Tortilla or Tortilla Chip. (As well as the more Italian-sounding Tortellini.)

And finally, my mother wanted me to share a picture of her tortoiseshell, commonly referred to as “the most beautiful cat in the world”. This is Casey, from 1995. Mom lost Casey a few years ago and hasn’t been able to replace her. Other than their colouring, Casey and Tortilla Chip have very little in common; their personalities were very different. But Casey was a big, soft, very sweet, quiet, and yes, very, very beautiful girl.

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Barbecued Tempeh Sandwich, with Pickled Carrots recipe

Who else is snowed in? We got a mess yesterday, beginning with rain and sleet all afternoon, a slushy mess that washed away all the salt that had been put down to pre-treat the roads, which then turned to a heavy snow, pretty much at the minute they predicted it would – 4 p.m., just in time for the afternoon rush hour – dumping about 5 inches. We’ve still been fortunate so far this year compared to the rest of the East Coast (even to the south!), so I shouldn’t complain, though I probably will because I hate this stuff! I have even less right to complain because from what I’m hearing, I think much of our county is without power right now, and though our lights flickered several times last night, they stayed on.

PLUS, working from home enabled me to bake bread, a treat I don’t usually get mid-week! My lunch today was the Barbecued Tempeh Sandwich Filling from Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen on fresh-from-the-oven multi-grain bread, smeared with Berley’s Spicy Sun-Dried Tomato Spread, topped with pickled carrots and a squirt of sriracha. Served with broccoli slaw.

When I sat down to begin this post, I was going to apologize for not having a recipe for you in this post. I have one coming later today, but because it might be photo-heavy, I thought I’d get some other pictures out of the way first. But then I realized I could tell you how I made the carrots and call that a recipe, so I’d feel better about making you look at a bunch of pictures. Berley suggested shredded carrots as a topping for the sandwich, but I’d read Jes‘s Spicy Noodles with Tofu recipe earlier in the day and had been intrigued by the quick pickled carrots it included. I’m looking forward to making that entire dish very soon, but for my sandwich, I decided to make slightly more involved pickled carrots, though they were nearly as quick. So here you go:

Quick Pickled Carrots

2 large carrots, shaved, shredded, julienned, spiralized, or very thinly sliced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed

Whisk together all ingredients except the carrots, then mix in the carrots, cover, and refrigerate for at least half an hour. I put mine in a pickle press just because I have one, but that’s completely unnecessary. I shaved my carrots into long, thin peels using a vegetable peeler, but since I was using them as a sandwich topping, I wish I had used the spiralizer, which would have made them easier to eat on the sandwich. The shavings are good for using as a little side pickle, though. These were even better the next day.

So. Snow. We’re trapped:

Okay, the Canadians are probably politely trying to refrain from laughing. After seeing Zoa‘s pictures of the snow at her house, it does feel a little pathetic to post that one and whine about it. But there’s a thick layer of ice under that snow that’s making it impossible for this Miata driver to even attempt to leave, especially considering I slid into a ditch after hitting an unexpected patch of ice a couple of weeks ago. (Mark, who was drugged up from his root canals, the Miata, and I were all fine; it was mostly just surprising.) I’m fortunate to have the ability to work from home when necessary, so there’s no point in joining the traffic fracas, with downed power lines and trees, unplowed streets, and numerous non-working traffic lights.

I’m not such a curmudgeon I won’t even go outside, though, and the light was nice when I finished breakfast, so I grabbed my camera and looked for photo ops. My favorite was this tiny icicle dangling from a thin tree branch.

It’s shaped like a music note, which I found appropriate because all around me was a symphony of dripping, melting icicles, and weighty snow plopping to the ground from bowed trees. The music note icicle was only about an inch long. It can be difficult to photograph such small things when you are shooting into the air and it is blindingly bright all around you. I was using auto-focus, but a slight breeze was causing that tiny branch to sway, and at the huge aperture I using in order to blur the background, the tiniest movement by either the branch or the camera would cause the lens to focus at a drastically different distance. Would you believe that icicle is actually right smack in the middle of this photograph? It is that blurriness you can almost make out.

Moving on around the house, here is the patio, where you can also see the outside of my sunroom/library.

Here I am peeping into the sunroom from the backdoor. I’m meant to be in that chair, working!

Whilst I was peeping in, Torticia was peeping out:

Gomez has been looking out a lot, too. This is him watching the sleet yesterday:

And no, they aren’t always so placid. They’re actually quite bad. And they wrestle a lot.

In other news, I know I haven’t been posting much, even though I’ve been home quite a bit. The reason is I’ve been doing this really bizarre thing called sewing. If you’ve read the few craft posts I have sprinkled throughout this blog, you know that I hate and am terrible at sewing (although for some reason, I keep doing it). I think I mentioned a few posts ago that I finally broke down and bought a new sewing machine in December after almost having a meltdown while making gift bags this year. It turns out that I hate sewing much less when I have a machine that works. I’m still pretty terrible at it, but I am becoming more confident.

This is a common view from my seat at the sewing table:

He attacks and chews on the thread at the top. He’s very bad! (Both he and Torticia also try attacking the rotary blade when I’m cutting fabric and are thus banned from the sewing room whenever it’s out.) Anyway, my big project was making my mom a rag quilt for her birthday. She just received it in the mail yesterday, so I can post these pictures now. The kittens were very fond of the quilt.

Here’s what the quilt looked like; I couldn’t get any photos that didn’t involve a kitten.

Would you believe I actually free-motion quilted it? I barely can (believe it). I did tell Mom not to look at the quilting too closely, though, since I’m even worse at that than I am sewing in a straight line. It’s a very weird sensation at first, but it’s kind of fun. If there is any interest, I may be talked into writing up a tutorial on making rag quilts. You don’t have to free-motion quilt them, in fact, I haven’t seen any instructions that even recommend that you do (usually you just sew an X through each quilt sandwich). I’m just insane.


This is what happened when I tried to pack the quilt up to mail it. Sigh.

That’s it for now. Stayed tuned for a post with a real recipe later today. I promise no more snow pictures. I can’t promise no more kitten photos, though.

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Cabbage Thing

Ugh, still really busy! Tonight’s meal was yet another “throw a bunch of stuff together and hope for the best” meal. When Mark asked what it was, I answered, “some cabbage thing” and he glommed onto that, jabbering and even singing about his favorite meal “cabbage thing”. So here is Cabbage Thing in all its glory:

Cabbage Thing

1/2 large or 1 small onion, sliced
1/2 tsp caraway seeds, if you like them
12 oz tempeh, chopped
2 small or 1 medium potato, chopped
4 cups vegan stock or broth (I used “beef” flavored)
8 oz tomato sauce
1/2 green cabbage, shredded
2 cups cooked rice
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
paprika

Heat some oil in a Dutch oven or large pot, then add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the tempeh and the caraway seeds (if you’re a fan) and saute a few more minutes, then add the potato, broth, tomato sauce, and cabbage. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are soft, 20-30 minutes. Stir in the rice and season with salt, pepper, and paprika.

The ambitious can add a lesser amount of uncooked rice and cook it in the pot with the potatoes and cabbage.

It ain’t pretty to photograph, but it’s tasty to eat.

Mark said he especially loved Cabbage Thing with cabbage on the side, which I thought was a great idea, so I ate mine with a side of sauerkraut.

This has been a super quick post, and I’m sorry – maybe one day soon I’ll have time for a proper post – but I only have time for a single quick kitten photo. Guess who loves nutritional yeast just like his predecessor?!

It’s Gomezian! Torticia, on the other hand, doesn’t understand the appeal.

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Poached Tofu Cutlets

Holy cats, have I been busy! I don’t know why, but October is always an insanely busy month for me. I guess part of it is both our birthdays, and our anniversary, and Halloween, and I always end up travelling – sometimes multiple times – in October. I’ve also been working a lot lately. All that that is why I haven’t been posting much.

We went to Charleston, SC a couple of weeks ago to visit Mark’s family. We left mid-week and right before we left, I did a quick sweep of the refrigerator for perishables and realized I hadn’t used the tofu I’d made that weekend, so I quickly threw it in a container and popped it in the freezer. I’m not a huge fan of frozen tofu; the texture doesn’t win me over as it does some, and it is so sponge-like it always seems to absorb so much salt it tastes too salty. Nonetheless I wasn’t about to waste homemade tofu, so in the freezer it went.

I was looking for a way to use it and came across this post on the wonderful Just Bento. This idea is totally ripped off of Maki, but for my broth I just started pouring things into my Dutch oven, trying but not really to keep the sodium down.

Poached Tofu Cutlets

1 block frozen tofu, thawed
3 cups vegan broth (I used “chicken”-flavoured)
1/4 cup red wine
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

cornstarch

Slice the tofu into four slabs like this:

Whisk together the remaining ingredients except the cornstarch in a Dutch oven or wide saucepan then add the cutlets. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently for 20 minutes or longer. I think I left mine for 45 minutes or so.

Remove the cutlets from the broth …

(In the wild, poached tofu is the same color as bamboo chopping blocks in order to elude knife-wielding cooks.)

… and coat with cornstarch.

Pan-fry on both sides in olive oil, or do as I did and grill on an electric grill (I brushed the grill with oil first):

Meanwhile you can thicken the (strained) leftover broth with some cornstarch (add the cornstarch to a small amount of cold water then whisk it in and heat until thickened) to make a gravy, though that’s optional.

Look at these baby sweet potatoes I got. LOOK AT THEM!

I love baby vegetables almost as much as I love baby animals. They’re tiny and sweet…just like Torticia! (By the way, upon hearing what they were, Mark informed me he hated sweet potatoes, but he tried them anyway and liked them! I know because he actually ate them! Baby vegetables are awesome!)

Plated meal:

Wow – this was the best meal I’ve made using frozen tofu, and though I’d be hard pressed (haha, like my tofu) to call the broth low-sodium, it wasn’t too salty. The texture was good too: chewy, but not overly sponge-like. Very flavourful. I think I still prefer my tofu fresh but it’s great to know I can make something really good with it even if I end up having to freeze it. And actually, frozen homemade tofu is probably better than non-frozen store-bought tofu.

In other news, I had pre-ordered then forgotten about Harold McGee’s new book Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes and was therefore pleasantly surprised to find it on my doorstep this evening. It’s almost as big as the mega-wonderful On Food and Cooking, though not nearly as dense, and looks like it contains a bazillion helpful hints. I’m almost (but not quite) sorry it arrived today, because I’m feeling a little overwhelmed between work, social obligations, and the seven or eight “spooky” books I just bought for Halloween, which were added to my queue of..oh geez, 37 books. (In other news, I’ve read exactly 100 books so far this year!)

And …

Gomez, light of my life, fur of my clothes. My kitten, my cat. Go-mez-ian: the tip of your tail twitching to and fro across my toes. Go. Mez. Ian.

He is Mez, plain Mez, in the morning, standing on my chest. He is Mezzie when he plays. He is Mezzaluna in the kitchen. He is Gomez on the vet bills. But in my arms he is always Gomezian.

…and for Halloween he is Dracula!

Which is extra awesome because growing up I had a cat named Dracula, who prior to Tigger, Brachtune, Gomez, and Torticia, was the greatest cat who ever lived, and though he now has to share the title, still has a very special place in my heart. (And my skin; I have a tattoo of him.)

(My mom made Dracula’s Halloween costume just like she made all of mine!)

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Simple Seitan Stew

I tend to cook all day on Sundays. I generally begin the day baking bread, making tofu, and usually one or two other things, such as pizza today, then later I make something fairly involved for dinner. It’s my domestic day. Today started off strong – I got my tofu mojo back – but I started getting what I suspect may be a sinus headache and all I wanted to do was read the rest of the afternoon. So all my plans for an extravagant dinner went out the door and I instead made something very simple and very comforting, although since it simmered for so long, it still felt a little bit like I was putting a normal effort into it. Really, though, prep time for this is next to nothing if you have seitan on hand. I had some in the freezer, so I was good to go.

Simple Seitan Stew

1 lb seitan, chopped into bite-sized chunks
wine or sherry for deglazing, optional
4 small cooking onions, peeled but left whole
2 huge carrots, chunked
4 small to medium potatoes, chunked
4 cups vegan “beef” broth
1 cup tomato sauce
1 Tbsp Marmite
1 tsp Kitchen Bouquet
2 bay leaves (I used 4 because they were fresh and young and I think less potent)
1/2 tsp (or to taste) freshly ground pepper
2/3 cup frozen peas
1 Tbsp malt vinegar, optional
2 Tbsp cornstarch + 3 Tbsp cold water

Brown the seitan in some oil in a heavy Dutch oven, deglazing the pot with wine, sherry, or broth. Place the rest of the ingredients except the frozen peas, vinegar, and corn starch into the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are soft, probably 45 minutes to an hour. Add the peas and the malt vinegar if you wish – mine tasted sort of sweet and I wanted to cut that a little bit. Remove the bay leaves. Whisk together the cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl, then stir into the stew and simmer another minute or two until thickened. Squish any onions that are still whole to break them up.

Serve with crusty bread.

What’s that you say? You won’t leave without a kitten photo? Well, I guess I can scrounge one up for you this time. Gomez has taken to helping me cook.

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Split Pea and Barley Soup

Wow, have I been busy in the kitchen this weekend! I’m not someone who ordinarily slows down as far as cooking goes during the summer; Mark runs the air conditioner constantly, so it’s usually not too hot for me to cook. So I don’t know if it’s just coincidence that Hurricane Earl brought us a cool Labor Day weekend – an upper 70s reprieve (and very sunny skies! no hurricane here; the weather is amazing!) from the summer-long near-100-degree days – and I ended up cooking even more than usual or if cooler temperatures were somehow responsible. Yesterday I made sauerkraut and kimchi, and for dinner, seitan ham, cooked fresh lima beans, and barley. Today I’m making pain au levain and I made tofu for the first time in months (it didn’t turn out very well; I guess I need to get back into the swing of it), and I even saved the okara to make Zoa’s chicken-style okara seitan. This morning I also made split pea soup; the great thing about which being I used up a bunch of leftovers doing so.

Split Pea and Barley Soup

1 onion, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 cup fresh lima beans
7 cups broth, chickpea cooking water, or a combination of both (I had saved the water leftover from cooking chickpeas a couple of days ago)
2 cups green split peas
1 cup diced vegan “ham”
several splashes liquid smoke
1 cup cooked barley, or 1/3 cup uncooked
1 tsp salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper

In a Dutch oven over medium heat, saute the onion in some olive oil until translucent.

Add the carrots and garlic; saute for another 3 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients, except the barley if cooked, and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, until peas are done. If using cooked barley, add it 5 to 10 minutes before the soup is ready.

Serve!

This was my lunch today.

So as not to drive Zoa insane with curiosity, the book is Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. The bread is a baguette from the farmer’s market, sold by a real live Frenchman, who spoke French at me for a full three minutes and made me feel bad about myself – after feeling good that I’ve been understanding Josiane’s French tweets – because I only understood a single word (“français”). Le sigh. I don’t buy much bread because I bake my own, but since I usually bake on Sundays, I’ve been picking up a baguette on Saturday mornings to tide us over. I’ve been taking one of my baguette bags so my Frenchman doesn’t need to put it in a paper bag – another great use for the bread bags! (I got a lot of compliments on the baguette bag yesterday. The Frenchman also commented on it, but I don’t know what he said. What did those five years of high school and college French get me?!?)

Also pictured above is my first batch of water kefir. Actually, I’ve made it before but didn’t keep up with it, but I got more grains this week and am going to try to maintain it better this time. So far so good; it tastes great! I made the mistake(?) of telling Mark it was probiotic when he asked what it was, so he refuses to drink it. More for me! I also found this great water bottle in my favorite antique store. It’s the perfect size for chilling my quart of water kefir, and it has this awesome valve lid that is shut when it sits upright and opens when you tilt the bottle to pour. I love it!

The cool weather is energizing the kittens; they – well, mostly Torticia – have been getting into trouble this weekend. Here she is attacking Hamelman’s Bread book.

She’s not the only one who likes cookbooks a little to much; earlier in the week Gomez was lounging on Veganomicon

… until he decided to eat the cheesecloth covering some fermenting pickles.

But then they do this. I love them.

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