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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Roasted Vegetable Pesto Polenta

Hello, is anyone out there? After a lengthy absence I am back with some recipes! I doubt anyone will see this after so long, but I’ve been cooking up a storm lately and decided to post if for no other reason to give myself ideas at some future date when I’m not feeling as creative.

Like a lot of Americans, I’ve spent the time since my last post, which I see was just after “the election”, in a state of deep depression, stress, and anxiety. Much of it was directly related to the election and continues to this day, and will undoubtedly continue through 2020, although some of it was due to personal reasons. The good news is I’m feeling better personally. (Though still feel increasingly terrible as an American.) Dark as my days may have been, I never stopped wanting to cook, and I frequently made really good stuff, but I wouldn’t say I was being particularly explorative when cooking over the last couple of years. Occasionally a friend would tell me I should post something here, but I either didn’t agree the meal warranted a post or just didn’t have the wherewithal to get around to it.

I moved into my third new place in three years in California a few weeks ago. I’m sill in the Bay Area (I’ve barely moved a mile each time), but have downsized to a slightly more affordable condo as opposed to the single family houses Mark and I shared. I wasn’t sure how the transition to a multi-family building would be for me, and there are still some things I’m getting used to, but I wasn’t expecting to get as extra-excited about cooking as I have! Especially since although I REALLY lucked out regarding the size of my kitchen, the electric stove top is vintage to the 1983 building construction and it’s a freakin’ mess! (The double oven, though, is brand new!) Ironically, the stove is probably partially responsible for my recent cooking zeal because it “forced” me to buy an induction burner, which I’ve wanted for years, and use it for most of my cooking, AND I LOVE IT. I should have bought one a long time ago: if nothing else it would have saved me from the ten times I’ve let my homemade soy milk boil over when making yogurt!

I’ve been more consistently going to farmers markets lately, and being at farmers markets makes me intensely happy. I come home with a basket full of produce, eager to turn it into delicious meals. My meals have become a little more imaginative and healthy than they were. I’ve never actually eaten badly, by any means, and maybe it’s just the summer season with all its bounty, but I feel like I’m just eating fresher and healthier than ever before. I’m actually overwhelmed with ideas and meals I want to make! As I said, I thought maybe I’d try to document some of them here, because I know these things come and go in phases and in a few months I might not be feeling quite as imaginative or excited. So to that end, here is last night’s…

Roasted Vegetable Pesto Polenta

One trend in my meals of late has been roasting vegetables, making some sort of whole grain or grains, concocting some new sauce, grabbing handfuls of fresh herbs, and serving a one-bowl meal of it. I scored a huge bunch of basil for $1.50 at the market yesterday, so I made pesto. Although I have been doing a lot of experimenting lately, I actually made a very traditional pesto, although for me THAT was experimental because as a vegan, I’ve never actually made pesto exactly as you’re supposed to, since obviously I don’t eat cheese. I really like Follow Your Heart’s vegan parmesan, though, so I used that.

1 cup whole grain polenta-ground corn
4 cups water
1/2 tsp salt

2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 zuchinni or summer squash, sliced
1 small onion, roughly chopped

1/4 cup pesto (homemade is best, but Trader Joe’s sells a vegan version)
3 Tbsp corn relish
vegan parmesan (optional)

I made the polenta in my Instant Pot using these directions, but basically to make it, you put the water in a pot (Instant or otherwise), then slowly whisk in the polenta meal. Then you add salt and cook it until it’s done, stirring often if you are making it on the stove, or on the Porridge –> More setting on the Instant Pot. Both methods probably take the same amount of time when it’s all said and done, but with the Instant Pot method I just walked away from it for half an hour, so that’s easier.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the prepared vegetables in olive oil and sprinkle with some salt. Roast them until they are tender, about 25 minutes.

To serve, scoop some prepared polenta into a shallow bowl. Dollop half the pesto on top. Add the roasted vegetables and dollop the remaining pesto on top of them. Finally top with the corn relish, and if desired garnish with vegan parm. The corn relish I used was my home-canned relish using a recipe from the excellent Saving the Season by Kevin West. If you don’t have corn relish, find some other pickled item to add a “zing” – otherwise maybe just try a little lemon juice. I liked the contrast between the sweet polenta corn and the zip of the corn relish.

I served this with field green salad tossed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette (olive oil, balsamic, Dijon, and salt):

As I’ve eaten ALL my meals lately, I ate this on my balcony, and it felt like being in a particularly cozy restaurant.

Another unexpected thing about my new place is that my favorite “room” is the balcony! (Well, one of the two balconies!) I absolutely love it out here (I’m composing this post from it!). The weather is (almost) always perfect here, so it’s always pleasant to be outside. Here’s a picture taken of my lunch (gumbo!) earlier yesterday: on the table you can see the basil that would shortly become pesto:

I don’t know what it is about this balcony, but I honestly feel like I’m on vacation every time I’m out here. It puts me in a very relaxed state. Since I work from home, I’m able to eat all three meals outside and mentally it’s extremely good for me. I usually read while I eat, or if I want to watch TV or a movie while I eat dinner, I use my tablet. It’s sooo much nicer than what I’ve done for years, which is eat dinner on the sofa (unless we had guests). The only downside to the balcony is I miss the cats, who used to sit on my lap while I ate, but now have to sit by the door and look forlornly out at me since they can’t come out here. But having such a wonderful place to eat is probably another part of the reason I’ve been so into cooking.

I’ve also been canning a lot since I moved. A friend, who had helped me pack my jars last time, came to visit the new place and commented that it looked like I had fewer jars this year than I did last year. So I promptly canned two different kinds of pickles, 40 pints of different soups, chili sauce, and ginger syrup – I must have added at least 75 jars to the shelf since I got here. I should do a post soon on the beautiful jar shelf Fortinbras built me and all the stuff I’ve been canning. I’m currently developing a “gumbo starter” recipe I want to pressure can. (Hence yesterday’s gumbo lunch!)

And in other news, I’m only even more involved in wildlife rehab than I was the last time you heard from me. Because it’s the busy season, I’m working a ton of hours on wildlife-related stuff, several days a week. I’ve also started doing at-home rehab: some baby mammals (I’m actually picking up a batch of 30-gram opossums tonight), but mostly, and my favorite – OWLS! That’s right: I keep owls in my house. It’s amazing. Once the animals I’ve raised and/or healed are ready to go, I usually get to release them myself, so in addition to all the rehab, I’ve been doing a lot of wildlife releases. I’m not allowed to share pictures from inside the hospitals or of rehab patients in my home on social media, so sorry, I can’t post tons of adorable owl pictures, but here is a video of me releasing a white-tailed kite last week:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQWRS8PtU3I

And finally, I’m still trying to hike a few times a week, although I’ve added kayaking and biking to my activities as well. I’m still seeing all kinds of amazing animals when I go out! A friend and I came across this Great Horned owl fledgling in Redwood Regional Park last week.

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