Lettuce Wraps

So, I’ve been injured. I wouldn’t bring it up except I’ve gone through phases of being annoyed, then depressed, and then scared by it, but now it’s just gotten downright comical. I’m not a runner. In fact, I have always despised running and haven’t done it since playing JV field hockey in high school. So I usually swim or walk for exercise. Mark and I have a nice treadmill that is integrated with Google Maps, so I like to plot scenic walks for workouts then watch the Streetview pictures while the treadmill adjusts the incline based on the altitude of my course. I mostly love walking along beautiful coastlines, but then I decided to hike down the Grand Canyon because it looked so pretty. This, of course, was all downhill, and suddenly it seemed so easy to break into a trot. Encouraged by the immediate drop in the time to complete my workout, I continued to run, off and on, throughout the course of my 4-mile trek. I finished up the workout feeling very proud of myself, though a little weak in the knees.

I later learned that running downhill is very hard on your knees and for the next couple of day I limped a little, which I chalked up to the years my knees had gone without being forced to run, however, over time, my knees started getting worse, not better, until I began attracting the concerned attention of co-workers and people on the street. Although the small kindnesses of strangers (for example, returning my grocery cart for me) restored my faith in humanity, I hate attracting attention to myself. I had to start asking Mark to help me with some things, and I hate not feeling self-sufficient, so when walking from one room of the house to another became a daunting prospect, I started slipping into depression and frustration. Around the same time, the swelling and pain in my knees expanded to my ankle, compounding the problem. Discussing it with a runner RN friend of mine, she asked if I’d been bitten by a tick recently, as migratory joint issues are a symptom of Lyme disease. As it turns out, I was bitten by a tick back in May and as it also turns out, I’m terrified of Lyme disease, so I promptly totally overreacted, worked myself into a state of panic, and immediately saw my doctor. I haven’t yet gotten the results of Lyme disease test back, so I’m not in the clear, although I have calmed down considerably about it. However, as I was practically unable to walk when I saw him, my doctor gave me an anti-inflammatory pill that gave me a few hours of relief a day and allowed me to walk across the airport to our gate when the day came for us to fly to Charleston for a week with Mark’s family.

I was so ecstatic to get to the beach the day after our arrival, because we never made it to the beach last summer and due to my knees and ankle I hadn’t exercised in over two weeks, so I was desperate to swim. I waded out to a nice spot where I could swim around and watch the pelicans fish and was immediately stung by a jellyfish ON MY SWOLLEN, PAINFUL ANKLE (and the other as well). This was the first time I’d ever been stung, and honestly it wasn’t that bad, so I just ignored it and continued swimming for a couple of hours, blissfully happy. I just found it amusing I’d managed to get stung on my ankles and I was relieved to learn that jellyfish stings weren’t as bad as I’d thought they were.

Two days later – yesterday – Mark and I were in the ocean again, frolicking for a while when all of the sudden I screamed – stung AGAIN, and this time much worse. Again it was both ankles, and again, much worse on the injured one. Mark walked me out of the surf and both my ankles were red, one of them quite puffy from the original injury but with a new, swirling, barbed red mark wrapped back and forth all around the ankle where the tentacle had grabbed me. It was a lot harder to ignore this time, so soon we packed up and went home where my mother-in-law wrapped vinegar-soaked gauze around both ankles and forced me to sit with them propped up until the burning sensation started to subside. Once I was able to walk without grimacing, I realized how funny the situation was. I mean, REALLY? This morning, a day after, I’m still sporting a angry swirled, barbed tattoo although it no longer stings.

And yes, I’m planning to go back in the ocean despite the fact that it’s apparently teeming with jellyfish right now. Because I can’t REALLY get stung on my swollen ankle EVERY TIME I go out, can I? My luck can’t be THAT bad, right?? Yes, I’m stupid enough to try it. I want to swim THAT badly.

Anyway, if you’ve waded this far into the post, I shall reward you not by stinging you where you are most vulnerable, but with a recipe!! As Mark’s mother is in the process of moving and is between houses right now, we are all staying at his aunt’s house. I wanted to make the family dinner yesterday, so before we went to the beach, we picked up some groceries and I got everything all prepped for dinner. I’m so glad I prepped dinner before the beach because all I had to do once I’d recovered sufficiently from the sting was quickly cook everything in a wok, and that was easy enough to do even while hobbling. The concept of this meal was Mark’s. He, his mom, and I were standing around Earth Fare trying to decide what I should make, and Mark made each of us pick a letter of the alphabet, then he used our letters to come up with ingredients, which he strung into a meal idea. Our letters were L, R, and P, which Mark translated to lettuce, rice, and protein (and peppers), then announced lettuce wraps as our meal concept. We ended up changing the rice to cellophane noodles, but I thought lettuce wraps were a splendid suggestion and worked well for a blazing hot day, following some beach time. So we wandered around the aisles as I thought up a rough recipe, which I now present to you. This is a good meal for prepping ahead of time and it easy to put together in unfamiliar kitchens, such as vacation rentals.

Lettuce Wraps

1-2 heads iceberg lettuce (depending on how many you are serving and how many good, large pieces of lettuce you can get out of each one)
6 ounces cellophane (mung bean) noodles
2 1/2 cups vegan “beef” broth, divided
1 1/2 cups bulghur
1 heaping cup TVP granules
1 onion, chopped small
1 bell pepper, chopped small
several cloves garlic, minced or pressed
chili peppers, minced (as many as you want depending on their hotness and your tolerance for spiciness)
6 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
6 Tbsp hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Put the bulghur in a large bowl and the TVP in a medium bowl. Bring the broth to a boil. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the broth over the bulghur and stir …

… and pour the rest of the broth over the TVP.

Cover both bowls with a plate and set aside. The bulghur may take up to a couple of hours to soak completely; the TVP about 15 minutes. Both can sit for a while longer, though if it will be several hours you may want to put them in the refrigerator.

Put the cellophane noodles in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 15 minutes then drain. This was practically impossible to take a picture of, so use your imagination. Whisk together the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and sesame oil. I didn’t even think to take a picture of that but I’m sure you can imagine what it looked like.

Prep all of the veggies by chopping. There is a bowl of purple potatoes in this picture because I used them, but they didn’t add anything to the dish and I wouldn’t bother with them next time. (You can see in this picture that I served corn on the cob on the side.)

Now BRAVE THE DANGEROUS, DANGEROUS SEA for a couple of hours.

When you are ready to prepare the meal, heat some oil in a large wok, then add the onions and cook until soft. Add the garlic and hot peppers and cook for a minute or two, then add the bell pepper and cook another few minutes. Add the bulghur, TVP, and cellophane noodles, stirring and cooking until warmed through. Finally, stir in the sauce and cook for another couple of minutes.
<img src="http://ineluctable.org/ieatfood/lettuce_wraps/lettuce%20wraps_4.jpg".

Mark's cousin is sensitive to wheat, so in a small separate pan I made her some that only had TVP and no bulghur.

I put Mark to work separating, washing, and drying the lettuce leaves.

Everyone helped themselves to lettuce leaves, then heaped some of the filling into them and rolled them up. Sriracha would have been nice.

Before rolling and shoving in my face:

Not all of my trips to the beach have ended traumatically. We took an absolutely beautiful sunset walk along the beach one night, which actually was very easy on my ankle.

In the first few days after the Grand Canyon Fiasco, I was able to walk well enough that when the temperature plummeted from 100 degrees to 80 one day, I practically ran to the wildlife refuge, where I encountered several different types of dragonfly.

I was able to add a new animal to the list of species I’ve seen there, although this groundhog running doesn’t make a very good picture.

The bunnies come out close to sunset; here is one stuffing his face with grass.

And some ospreys enjoying a very non-vegan family dinner.

And with that I’m off for more family time while trying to avoid any further attacks to my legs.

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