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:

Comments (8)

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.

Comments (18)

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!

Comments (8)

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!

Comments (17)

Fastest Pad Thai Ever

I made some Faux Pho for dinner last night and made way too many noodles. So today when I was rummaging in the refrigerator for something to make for lunch, it was obvious I should base it around the leftover rice noodles, and maybe it was the peanut butter sriracha cookie I was nibbling while I thought, but the first thing that came to mind was pad thai. Now, pad thai is really not a very time consuming dish to make to begin with, so there is little need to try to speed it up. And traditionally there is no peanut butter in pad thai. But for a nearly-instant lunch, this was really very tasty. If, like me, most of your at-work lunches are leftovers, this is something you can whip together in three minutes before you leave the house and warm gently in the microwave at the office. I’m afraid my measurements – loose at the best of times – are non-existent here. It’s really up to you to balance out the sweet, salty, and sour flavors the way you like it.

Fastest Pad Thai Ever

cooked rice noodles (this is a great way to use up leftovers, which I tossed very lightly with sesame oil before storing)
peanut butter (smooth or crunchy is okay)
tamarind pulp or concentrate
soy sauce
jaggery (my favorite sugar, available in Indian groceries, and Wegmans is now carrying this product) or brown sugar
sriracha
protein, such as cubed tofu or shredded seitan (optional)
shredded or thinly sliced veggies (optional) – my Quick Pickled Carrots are perfect

Put the peanut butter, tamarind, soy sauce, jaggery or sugar, and sriracha in a blender in proportions that are pleasing to your palate and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust flavors. Thin with water and blend again. Heat for a minute or two in the microwave (or on the stovetop in a small saucepan), and then whisk. If your noodles are cold, warm them in the microwave for a minute or two. Toss everything together.


The pickled carrots are particularly brilliant here because the provide the extra tang that you usually get by squeezing a lime over your noodles, so if you don’t happen to have a lime on hand, you’re covered. For my protein, I used a handful of the shredded seitan chicken from Nature’s Soy, which I get at Super H. Top this with crushed peanuts, cilantro, and/or bean sprouts if you have them on hand, but if you don’t and you’re just going for super fast, this was quite tasty as is.

And today is a Torticia day. Torticia is a silly little animal. I think she’s getting a little pudgy, and although she and Gomez spend hours racing around the house all day, she’s been a bit lazy when I’m playing with her. Whereas Gomez leaps around like an Olympic gymnast trying to catch dangling toys, Torticia often rolls on her back and waits for the toy to come to her. She’s roly poly.

She’s lazy.

She takes naps to recover from naps.

She’s also an extremely cuddly, affectionate, friendly, tolerant, fuzzy, little ball of wonderfulness. This morning when I woke to her sleeping between my legs, as soon as she realized I awake, she snuggled up on my chest and purred and purred and purred and begged to be petted, and snuggled some more, and was basically so incredibly cute it brought tears to my eyes. She’s so loving and warm, and extremely soft and silky. It’s just a joy to touch her.

And then she goes and does something classy like this:

Although really she’s probably the most beautiful cat in the universe.

Comments (10)

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.

Comments (6)

Welsh Rarebit

This will be a brief post, like the dinner it was inspired by. No elaborate write-up, just a quick note of what I made tonight. I was planning to serve a bean dish made with Great Northern beans and a green veggie, and was pondering what my third item should be when I saw that I had a small loaf of slightly stale homemade bread. I didn’t think the bread would be spectacular on its own, but toasted and slathered in something, I figured it would be great. So I decided to make Welsh rarebit. I’ve always heard that Welsh rarebit – essentially cheese sauce on toast – is so-called because it was what was served if you went out rabbit hunting and didn’t catch any rabbits, but according to that Wikipedia article that explanation is a slur, implying the Welsh were never successful at killing rabbits. Well, there is a lot of Welsh in my family history and I’m sure my mother would not let me make any slurs against the Welsh (not that I would, I even wear a Welsh dragon necklace), but I’ve always liked the story because I’m for any story that involves rabbits not being killed.

The “cheese” sauce is essentially the Yeast Cheeze from Simply Heavenly! (which is in this post) using beer and non-dairy milk for most of the water. I also added some of the ubiquitous Dragonfly’s Dry, Bulk Uncheese. Here’s pretty much what I did:

Welsh Rarebit

6 Tbsp nutritional yeast
6 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 cup Dragonfly’s Dry, Bulk Uncheese
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
8 oz (1 cup) beer
8 oz (1 cup) water
4 oz (1/2 cup) non-dairy milk
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp soy margarine

In a saucepan, whisk together the dry ingredients. Whisk in the beer, water, and non-dairy milk. Heat over medium heat, whisking frequently, until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in mustard and soy margarine. Set aside.

Slice as many thick slabs of bread as you’d like. Slather with “cheese” sauce. Toast in toaster oven at high temperature (or regular oven at around 400 degrees Fahrenheit, or broil) until “cheese” is beginning to bubble. Serve with optional hot sauce.

So, you saw Gomez’s Halloween costume in my last post. I wish I had a nice picture of Torticia in her Halloween costume, but I’m afraid she thought her costume was a toy. Since the day I bought it, she’s been dragging it around the house and attacking it. She loves it. She was supposed to be a butterfly. I did manage to get this picture of the headpiece before she completely destroyed it:

But this is what happened when I put the wings on:

Well, she was cute anyway. I couldn’t very well tell her to stop loving her costume so much, right?

Mark and I were Luke and Lanet for Halloween. Luke and Lanet are our good friends and the couple hosting the party we went to. They both have iPads so Mark and I made fake iPads as props. I’m really going to have to get Lanet to do a guest post sometime because she’s a great cook. It’s always a treat to go to their house because she makes sure we vegans are well taken care of. Lanet and I are always talking about food and getting each other hyped up about kitchen appliances.

Who’s who in this crazy picture?!

It’s scary because I’m wearing pink! That only ever happens on Halloween.

Comments (11)

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.

Comments (11)

Grilled Pizza

Yet another post without a recipe, but I grilled pizza for the first time today and took pictures, so I thought I’d post them in case it inspires anyone else. I know grilling pizza is hardly revolutionary, but I had a lot of fun and would like to share.

First I lit the fire and let the coals burn until they were mostly white. Although it’s in the mid-90s today, which makes slaving over a hot grill a bit ridiculous, one advantage grilling pizza has over baking it in the oven is it takes the oven and baking stone nearly an hour to come up to temperature, whereas the grill took next to no time. I also wasn’t heating up the house, although I am about to turn the oven on to bake a couple loaves of pain au levain, so I’m not doing so well at keeping the kitchen cool after all.

While I was waiting for the briquets to be ready, I got everything ready on the table. Here are our two pizza crusts on peels; I’ve sprayed the tops of them with olive oil. I used my whole wheat version of Peter Reinhart’s New York style dough. I made my normal pizza sauce: saute crushed garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil, add crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, salt, pepper, and, sometimes, oregano; cook for 10 minutes and optionally puree. I also had Daiya mozzarella ready.

When the briquets were ready, I spread them out, then put the rack on the lower position. Then I picked one crust up and put it on the grill olive oil side down.

I sprayed the top with more olive oil then closed the grill for a minute or two. When I opened it, the crust was bubbling like crazy!

When the crust was firm enough that it was no longer sticking to the grill, I used an aluminum peel to remove it and flip it over onto the wooden peel. it got a bit darker than I’d intended, but I don’t think it matters – charred is good!

I added my toppings to the grilled side …

… and returned the pizza to the grill, sliding it off the peel.

I closed the grill and let it cook for a few more minutes, checking it every minute or so until the bottom was done and the “cheese” was melted.

It was hard to take a picture of the bottom because it really takes more than two hands to hold a pizza up and photograph the bottom of it, at least when it’s too hot to touch, but here’s my attempt at doing so:

Verdict? This was great! There’s room for improvement: next time I’m going to try to roll the dough out thinner, and I might move the rack to the upper position so the pizza has a chance to bake a little longer before starting to burn. But considering it was my first time grilling pizza and only my 4th or 5th time ever using a grill, the results were very impressive, and very tasty. I’m definitely going to use this method for our weekly pizzas whenever the weather allows.

In other news, I’ve had a very productive weekend. I mentioned in my last post that I recently bought a whole bunch of vintage mason jars to store dry goods in and I even posted a picture of my newly organized baker’s rack. Well, yesterday I found a great rack for storing my jars in my favorite antique store – it’s the perfect size for the jars and fits perfectly next to my baker’s rack – and what’s more it was only $24! How awesome is that?!

And here’s that whole side of the kitchen:

Where I had some of the jars on the baker’s rack, I moved them to the new rack. Then I emptied half of my over-stuffed cupboard onto the newly-freed shelf on the baker’s rack, which means for the first time in years I can actually see what I have. I discovered I have three bottles of apple cider vinegar because I could never see the bottles I already had. THAT gave me plenty of space in that cupboard to spread out my canned goods so I can see THEM and so they are not falling on my head when I open the cupboard door. I always feel so good about life when I organize the kitchen! And now that my dried beans are out on display in the dining room, I’ll see them and think to make them more often, in fact, I’m soaking some right now for dinner tonight!

And finally:

I hope everyone has had as nice a weekend as I have! Apparently Torticia has.

Comments (14)

Jeffrey Hamelman’s Five Grain Levain

This is one of my all-time favorite breads, and judging by the reactions I got when I served it as rolls at the party last weekend, it’s a big hit with others as well. I like it best in roll form, partly because it freezes so well that way, so that’s what I have documented here, although I’ll give you bake times for loaves as well. Jeffrey Hamelman is a Certified Master Baker and Bakery Director at King Arthur Flour. (I buy all my flour at King Arthur, by the way, and highly recommend it.) I’m always pushing Peter Reinhart’s bread books on you because I think his books are the absolute best for beginner bakers, but my other favorite bread book is Hamelman’s Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. It comes off a bit more advanced than Reinhart’s books, and with recipes scaled for both bakery and home use, it seems aimed towards very serious bakers, but he does have some really great, well-written chapters on technique – it just lacks all the pretty pictures Reinhart’s books have. I’ve never made a bad loaf of bread from this book, and every single one has come out of the oven crackling and beautiful.

Because I found this recipe on The Fresh Loaf and several other websites, I decided it was okay to share with you. But I must repeat that this is an excellent book, and if you make and like this recipe, I highly recommend you buy the book.

Jeffrey Hamelman’s Five-Grain Levain

Liquid Levain Build

8 oz (1 7/8 cups) bread flour
10 oz (1 1/4 cups) water
1.6 oz (3 Tbsp) mature sourdough starter * –> I explained how to make your own here, and you can also buy it from King Arthur Flour, which is actually where my current starter came from, which I guess means I’m baking with the same starter Hamelman is!

* I can’t vouch for the flavor because I’ve never done this, but if you are dying to try this bread and don’t have a starter and aren’t interested in growing one, you could use 1/4 tsp yeast here and essentially make a pâte fermentée. Also, I use more starter than what Hamelman calls for here. Instead of just 1.6 oz, I use half of my current starter so I’m doing a regular feeding of it; this is about 4 oz. Because I do this, I reduce the instant yeast in the final build somewhat.

Soaker

2.9 oz (5/8 cup) cracked rye (when I don’t have rye, I use millet, as I have done with this bake)
2.9 oz (5/8 cup) flaxseeds
2.5 oz (1/2 cup) sunflower seeds
2.5 oz (3/4 cup) oats
.2 oz (1 tsp) salt
13 oz (1 5/8 cups) water, boiling

Final Build
1 lb, 8 oz (all of above) soaker
1 lb, 2 oz (all less 3 Tbsp of above) liquid levain*
1 lb (4 3/8 cups) high gluten flour (you could try using bread flour if you can’t get high gluten)
8 oz (1 3/4 cups) whole wheat flour (I usually use white whole wheat)
.6 oz (1 Tbsp) salt
.1 oz (1 tsp) instant dry yeast
8.4 oz (1 cup) water

* The reason Hamelman calls for “all less 3 Tbsp” of the liquid levain is he expects you to reserve that 3 Tbsp to perpetuate your starter; however, since I’ve already saved half of my starter, I just include all of the liquid levain build in my final build. I have to make small adjustments in my final build – namely a little less water and/or more flour – to account for this.

The night before baking, build the liquid levain by mixing together all of the ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover (I use a plate to save on plastic wrap) and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 16 hours.

Also the night before, prepare the soaker by mixing together all the dry ingredients and then covering with boiling water and stirring well. Cover and let sit at room temperature with the levain.

My covered bowls:

Here is the levain the next morning, nice and bubbly:

On baking day, place all ingredients, including the soaker and levain, in the mixing bowl.

I had a helper. Remember on the first day we got the kittens I said I thought Torticia might end up taking Tigger’s place as my kitchen assistant? Turns out I was right.

If kneading by hand, stir until it comes together, then knead for probably about 10 minutes (Hamelman doesn’t even assume you’ll be doing this and I’ve never tried, so I’m guessing here). If using a mixer, mix on first speed for 3 minutes, adjusting the water or flour as necessary. You want a fairly tacky dough; it may seem pretty wet, in fact, if you aren’t used to high hydration doughs.

Then mix on the next highest speed for 3 to 3 1/2 minutes.

As this dough is a bit sticky, I spread a very light layer of flour on my workspace …

… then dump the dough from the bowl onto the flour, pulling it into a nice ball and coating it very lightly with the flour to make it easier to handle.

At the risk of looking like an advertisement for King Arthur Flour, here is my dough in their Dough-Rising Bucket, which I find indispensable for rising large batches of dough. Of course you can also use a large bowl, covering with either plastic wrap or a large plate as I demonstrated above. In either case, spray lightly with oil, then put the dough in.

Let rise for either 1 hour or 1 1/2 hours. (Although he doesn’t go into detail in the recipe, the difference in rising time would be due to different ambient temperatures; you’ll require longer rises in colder rooms.) If 1 1/2 hours (which is what I always do regardless of the temperature), stretch and fold after 45 minutes. This is how you do a stretch and fold: Remove the dough from the bowl and stretch out like this:

Fold it like a letter, that is, fold 1/3 down towards the middle …

… and then the other 1/3 up towards the middle …

Then stretch it out in the other direction …

… and repeat the process.

Return to the bowl (folds down) and let rise for the second 45 minutes. It should about double.

Remove the dough and shape. This recipe makes three 1.5 pound loaves, which you can shape into round or oval freestanding loaves. You can also make larger loaves. My favorite, though, are rolls. I divided the dough into 16 pieces about 5 ounces each.

Then I formed rolls by pulling together the dough on the bottom and forming a seam, pulling the dough so the surface is taut on the opposite side. This is hard to describe and photograph, but both Hamelman and Reinhart do a better job than me in their books. This roll is upside down (seam side up). The other side should be smooth and full of surface tension.

I panned 8 to a tray (now they are right side up – seam side down).

Cover and proof for an hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 460 degrees Fahrenheit.

To bake, I steam the oven by placing 1 cup of hot water in a cast iron pan (which I have devoted to this exclusive use) I keep on the bottom rack of my oven. If you don’t want to do that, spray the rolls with water and/or spray the oven walls with water just after loading the rolls. I had to bake each half-sheet pan separately, but you can bake 2 (possibly 3 if your oven is large) loaves at a time. Rolls take 20 to 25 minutes, 1.5 pound loaves 40 to 45 minutes, larger loaves a bit longer. Don’t underbake this dough; the seeds retain a lot of hydration and it takes extra time to bake. It should be a dark golden brown. One of the biggest mistakes most novice bakers make is not baking long enough; they get nervous when they see dark browning. I had to train myself to let my crusts get darker than I thought I wanted them to be. I think I read somewhere that you should bake bread until the crust is as dark as you expect it to be, then let it bake five more minutes. I could have let these get even darker.

Let cool for at least an hour (maybe 45 minutes for rolls) before slicing. Don’t be tempted to ignore this step! The cooling process is nearly as important as the baking process and you can ruin a loaf by slicing it too soon. For most of the breads I make, keeping Mark from slicing it too soon is the hardest step!

The crumb:

Simple sandwich of perfectly ripe tomato from the farmer’s market, freshly ground salt and pepper, and a little Vegenaise. Heaven!

If you freeze these, we’ve found that microwaving them for 30 seconds at normal power to defrost is perfect. There is little to no taste difference between fresh and frozen, so I love making a batch of these on the weekend and having “fresh” rolls on weeknights or for lunches for the next few weeks.

The kittens went outside (on leashes!) yesterday, but this has been a long, photo-heavy post, so I’ll fill you in on it in a later post, which will be soon because I’m cooking up something special today.

Comments (11)

Next entries » · « Previous entries