Nov 30, 2011

Day 53/240: Not rebooting just extending

I have decided that the trace of animal products in the vitamins, although concentrated, is minor and not to be obsessed about. I'm continuing the count as it stands but, as you may have noticed, I have extended the experiment another 60 days.

What this means is that instead of having the circulation tests done at the end of 180 days of herbivorous diet, I will wait until I have reached the 240th day.

I meant to cook lamacun last night, but things got bollixed up and I settled for a mujaddarah. I wasn't paying attention and cooked it with too little water (brown rice takes a little more water than white) and it came out a bit nubbly but tasted okay.

I should have the ingredients on-hand for the lamacun and I'll try to get to it tonight. It's a great recipe and kids seem to like it.

Nov 29, 2011

Day 52?/180: Do I need to reboot?

Don't worry about answering, it's a rhetorical question.

I'm cursing in equal parts my ADD and my stupidity. I was portioning out my pills for the week today when it suddenly occurred to me to reread the label on my vitamins. As I thought, they seemed to be beast-free. Then, on another part of the label, in tiny print, I saw another set of ingredients informing me that the product "Contains fish (cod, pollock, haddock, hake, cusk, redfish, sole, flounder) ingredients." Why this information was broken out to be listed separately is a question for which I have no answer other than the perverse joy some companies seem to take in making things confusing.

What this means, of course, is that the last 51 days have NOT been entirely free of animal-product nutrition. DAMMIT! I can rescue the situation slightly by persuading myself that it was just trace amounts and there was unlikely to be much, if any, protein since the additive was probably fish oil.

As I've said before, my dietary choice was not based on ethics but health, so I'm not feeling spiritually diminished. I am, however, a bit pissed off at the tricky labeling, and angry at myself for not being able to concentrate long enough to figure it out. The question now is; has the trace amounts of fish compromised the experiment to the extent that I need to start from Day 1/180 again?

It certainly wouldn't hurt me to do so, and it wasn't as if I was going to end my herbivorous diet on the 180th day ... but that's a decision I'll have to make for myself sometime today. You'll be able to see my decision when tomorrow's number is posted.

Nov 28, 2011

TMI Alert! Digestive Problems Discussed

Here's a curious thing I found out a few weeks ago.

I knew that some cheeses seemed to create ... umm ... let's call it a digestive mobility problem, one that required copious amounts of prune juice to solve.

I was surprised to find that vegan cheese substitutes triggered the same problem. It was surprising but, ultimately it's no great loss since the cheese analogs I tried neither tasted nor felt like cheese.

It does make me wonder, though, what the similarity is that would cause them both to affect my system the same way.

Day 51/180: Today's dinner ...

... isn't even worth talking about. It was a difficult day full of worry for my wife who went in for oral surgery this morning. She slept all afternoon while I fretted about her, but she woke up cheerful and without pain, so that's a relief. I settled for a couple of cups of miso soup, a few celery sticks, and two slices of multi-grain toast with tahini spread.

Tomorrow, however, will be fine. I'll be going to the gym in the early afternoon, then shop on the way home for the few extra ingredients I'll need to make vegetarian lamacun (or lamajoun). It's such an easy recipe and a real treat.

Day 50/180: Chickpeas and Tomato Curry AGAIN‽

Two fall-back dinners in a row. I guess I should make some kind of a plan as to how to keep things fresh and interesting without spending all day obsessing about dinner.

I did, however, make an excellent hummus for snacking. I flavored it with garam masala and a little mustard oil in addition to the traditional ingredients.

Day 49/180: A delayed post

Not to get overly repetitious, but I had mixed roasted vegetables for dinner again.

Part of the problem is having to use things up before you go on to new ingredients. The nice thing about roasted vegetables is that it just takes a modification of the mix and of the spices to give you a new dinner.

Nov 25, 2011

Day 48/180: Thanksgiving Aftermath

In a way Thanksgiving turned out as I expected. There was good conversation, a bit of family storytelling and a pleasant time was had by all.

On the other hand, it was, and still is, a test of my willpower.

The Thanksgiving spread was in my wife's family tradition: a 12-pound turkey stuffed with off-the-shelf bread stuffing, pearl onions in butter sauce, mashed potatoes made with milk and butter, turnips with butter, squash with butter and sugar, pumpkin pie made with cream and served with cream cheese, apple pie with butter served with cheddar. About the only thing served that I could eat were the pickles, olives, peanut butter-stuffed dates, and the mixed nuts (containing hazelnuts which, predictably, I am allergic to).

It was good that I brought my own dinner: mock turkey (seitan), stuffing muffins, potatoes roasted with olive oil and rosemary, corn with a touch of black sesame oil and garlic. On the whole, my dinner was probably tastier and certainly better for me than theirs was for them. And, thankfully, no-one felt inclined to point out that I wasn't sharing everyone else's food.

Then something happened that I hadn't anticipated. Due to Uncle Bob's failing eyesight and everyone else's lack of knife skills it fell to me to carve the turkey. I did. I did it without complaint. I sliced the white meat neatly and apportioned it to the plates. I scooped out the stuffing. I served seconds. I spent the meal with the turkey platter six inches from my plate. All of my favorite parts were still there: the wings, the "pope's nose", the pouchy part of the skin where the extra stuffing goes. Right in front of me for the entire meal.

And I made it! No slips, no quick licks of fat-slicked fingers, no snatching up of stray crumbs of stuffing. I survived and triumphed.

Late last night was harder. The leftovers came home with us, and every time I walked out to the kitchen I could see the untouched wings and drumsticks, the carcass with fully half the meat of the bird still on it, and I knew that it would all be wasted. It will sit in the refrigerator until it dries out or goes bad. No-one will ever eat any more from it because they are so used to me being their disposal unit, and I can not, I will not perform that function any more, even though the waste breaks my heart.

Just now I walked out to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. The turkey is gone! I wonder what happened to it. I wonder if I really want to know.

Nov 24, 2011

A Colonial Thanksgiving


William was splitting wood. A thin but broad-shouldered twelve-year-old he swung the axe deftly. It whistled through the air until its blade thunked deeply into the end of the section of log propped between the roots of an up-turned stump. Ice crackled underfoot as he let go of the helve and moved to place wooden wedges in the split that he'd made. He pulled on his mittens and took a round hickory mallet that hung from a convenient root and with one hand on the axe helve, tapped the wedges in until the widened crack released the blade. He hung the axe in the roots where the mallet had been, to avoid dulling the edge.

Tapping the wedges deeper he heard the crackle and groan of the log being torn apart until finally it fell in two pieces. He carried them to the neat stack of splits near the small, neat, log and clapboard house and added them to the top. Then he went to another stack and got another unsplit log.

As he walked back to the stump, a sudden shift in the cold breeze blew the smoke from the house chimney to swirl around him. The smoke of logs he had split earlier in the year was mixed wih the scent of pumpkin, apples and the greasy odor of a roasting bird. The smell of the pumpkin made him ill. As hungry as he was, he would be happy if he never had to taste pumpkin again ... ever.

Pumpkins were easy to grow, and dry. With corn and the occasional small gamebirds, they were the staples of the family's winter diet. Pumpkin was used in everything. It was stewed, roasted, baked. It was added to bread, thickened gravy. The taste of pumpkin was the taste of winter.

William trudged back to the stump with the log and settled it into the embrace of the roots. Twenty more to do. He took off the mittens and grabbed the axe helve.

After the last split for the day was put on the pile, he went to the door, pulled off his mittens and pushed the sheet of bark hanging from leather hinges aside. It was slightly warmer inside the house. It was a common house for the time. made of 18-foot logs on the longest dimension. The beds were platforms extending from the walls, three down below and two above in a loft reached by a ladder. The floor on the first level was compacted earth with flat stones near the fireplace.

A fire blazed merrily in the stone fireplace that took up most of one wall, but the heat it cast did not reach the far corners. A mound of blankets on a bed built into one of the corners, and only the occasional fog of his breath showed that William's grandfather lay underneath them, bundled from the cold.

His sister Elizabeth stood near the fire stirring the contents of a blackened iron pot suspended from an iron crane over one side of the fire. The thick plop of its boiling suggested that it was the pudding made from corn meal and dried pumpkin  His mother sat on a low stool tending the spiders, the skillets and pots with legs that sat in or near the blaze. Root vegetables were boiling in the large cauldron, Hanging by a cord over the middle of the fire was the goose that his father had shot with the old blunderbuss a few days ago. The lower half was roasted and partially blackened by the smoke, the top half was still raw but smudged with the soot.

Mother reached over and gave the bird a sharp twist. The cord twisted up, then untwisted and twisted the other way, rotating the bird over the fire to cook it as evenly as possible. An apple pie made from the last of the fresh undried fruit and a bit of maple sugar sent its distinctive aroma through the cracks in the metal box built into the chimney that served as an oven.

William moved close to the fire to thaw out. After a minute or two, his mother unhooked the goose from the cord, turned it upside down and hooked it with the raw side down. "Set up the table, Will," she said.

William got the trestles from a corner. He set the trestles on either side of the room, and got the long wooden benches and put them in place. The long board leant against the wall. He tilted it down and walked backward to drop it gently on the supports. Six deep hollows had been carved in the upper surface of the tabletop. With the board in place, there was just enough room at either end for a person to squeeze between the end of the table and the wall.

Then he placed six leather tankards on the table and four wooden cups on the sideboard, a simple plank attached to the wall. "Shall I get the cider?" he asked. His mother nodded. He went to the cupboard for the earthenware jug and put it on the sideboard.

"Why don't you go meet your father at the gate," she said. He put the mittens back on.

He opened the gate for his father's wagon and waited, stamping his feet to keep them from going numb. Finally he heard the rumble of wheels. As the cart appeared, William heaved a sigh. His father had brought Uncle Eb, his new wife Judith, two children from a previous marriage (Aunt Sarah had died of influenza four years ago) and Uncle Josiah. That meant there were six for the table, and he would be standing again this year.

He closed the gate after his father drove through, then ran to catch the wagon and jumped onto the back to ride the quarter mile to the house. William unhitched the horses and took them into the barn, rubbed them down and gave them some hay with a sprinklig of oats. "For your own Thanksgiving," he told them.

Inside, preparations were nearly done. The pie was cooling on the sideboard, bowls of boiled vegetables sat steaming on the table, some plates of pickled cabbage and fruit preserves, a loaf of bread and a pan of biscuits.

Greetings were shared, the coats hung up, and hands and rears warmed at the fire. The adults took their places at the benches. They all took knives, spoons and napkins out of their pockets. William, as the eldest child, poured the cider, then took his place with the other children standing at the sideboard. Uncle Josiah, a lay preacher, whose currently unmarried status was a source of concern to all who knew him, said the blessing and the food began to make its rounds

The bird was served in a shallow wooden bowl, which was passed along the table so that each adult could tear off the portion they wanted. The remnants were passed to William who took what he felt was fair and passed it down. The same process continued with all the dishes. The adults loaded the trough in front of them with food, and passed what was left to the children, who shared the scraps.

There wasn't much conversation. One didn't talk much while eating and the children were only to talk when spoken to ... and they weren't. An occasional gesture from an adult for William to refill a tankard was the sum of the communication between table and sideboard. Everyone ate with their knives and fingers. Those who had spoons used them for the small scraps.

The room was quiet except for the sound of chewing, drinking, an occasional fart or belch, and, now and then a clank as someone spat a piece of birdshot into a dish set by for that purpose.

At the end of the meal the pie was served. As William suspected, the plate was emptied before being passed to the children. Indian pudding was ladled into small porringers, and William greedily used more than his fair share of maple syrup to try to mask the taste of pumpkin.

The adults finished and the children were chased out into the snow or up to the loft, while the adults conversed.

And then it was over. His father, half-snoozing indicated that William had the task of driving the guests home. He went to the barn and hitched up the horses. Uncles and aunts and cousins piled into the bed of the wagon. He snapped the reins and they were off on the long cold drive to the two neighboring farms.

As he drove home in the moonlight, William wondered when he would get his place at the table.

The Most Challenging Day of the Year

I've mentioned before that I grew up in an obsessively frugal family (I didn't think so at the time, but I do in hindsight). One of the results of that childhood was to make me a little crazy at Thanksgiving. Of all the dinners over the course of a year, this is the one that used to let me give free rein to my penny-pinching impulses.

If you are a committed (or soon to be committed) moral/spiritual vegetarian, you should probably stop reading at the sound of the next period.

It starts with the giblets. No-one else in my family will eat the turkey giblets, not even if they've been pureed and incorporated into the gravy. The idea of throwing them out is anathema. I could justify giving all but the neck to the cat or dog if we had one, but I'm allergic to cats, and we haven't adopted a new dog since Penny died a few years ago. So I make up two batches of gravy. One for me and one for everyone else.

Just that little snippet should let you extrapolate as to how I got myself so fat. But there's more.

Few people in the house, or for that matter in either side of our originating families, eat dark meat. I eat it by preference because the skin is nice and crispy and to keep it from being wasted. Then, after dinner, when all of the remaining white meat has been sliced packaged and refrigerated, I take the carcass and the remaining dark meat and make a huge pot of turkey soup. If there are leftover turnips, potatoes, and squash, they go into the pot as well.

Do I really need to tell you who eats all that soup? No, I thought not.

But if I didn't do that, it would be wasted, and it's hard for me to get past the early training that waste is a sin.

I don't know where this next thought came from. Perhaps it was my early experiences on a farm, or perhaps it was something I read that stuck with me, or perhaps it is a philosophy I developed early on the genesis of which I have forgotten.

I don't have any ethical qualms about eating animals (well ... except octopus. But that's a discussion for another time).

I do have ethical qualms about taking the life of another creature and discarding all but a tiny portion of it. We don't have to go as far as the bushmen who apologize to their prey at some great length, but if we  take another creature's life to fuel our own, we should at least give it the respect to use all of its usable parts.

It shocks me to see the statistics on how much food is discarded by supermarkets, but I don't expect corporations to have a conscience. No matter what the Supreme Court says, corporations are not people. It horrifies me even more to see the amount of waste generated by individuals who blithely discard enough food to keep a family of five going for a week just because it involves a little extra effort or because they don't like dark meat quite as much as white.

Can you see why Thanksgiving tends to be a trial for me?

I have plenty to be thankful for and I'm not going to spoil the diner by ranting ... that's what a blog is for, after all. I'll just have to shut my mind off and deal with it graciously.

My dinner today will be the mock turkey seitan I made yesterday, with a vegetarian gravy and unbuttered vegetables. I'll start the final preparation in a few minutes, then box it up to take with me to the family gathering at Uncle Bob's house.

Day 47/180: Thanksgiving


Things that I'm thankful for (in no particular order):

  1. Life, the universe and everything - Having survived a year after a heart attack and being in relatively good health. 
  2. Family - My wife who remains lovable in spite of her best efforts, four wonderful if occasionally challenging children, three delightfully eccentric grandchildren who will, I hope, retain that eccentricity against all odds.
  3. Sentience - A brain that continues to function as well as it ever has.
  4. Books - Food for my soul, grist for the slowly turning millstones in my brain.
  5. Computers and networks - Giving me access to museums, libraries, and people I would have never met otherwise.
  6. Vegetables, grain and fruit - Providing all the nourishment my body needs.
  7. Other people - Keeping me amused, confused, bemused, enthused and occasionally used, misused, excused, accused, abused, and bruised.
  8. Coffee, tea, and other mood-altering substances - Just because.
  9. Language, music and art - The best imperfect forms of communication I know.
  10. Science - For at least trying really hard to make it all understandable.

Day 46/180: Mock Turkey Dinner

I prepared a large batch of seitan with Bell's poultry seasoning mixed into it. Most of it is draining for use tomorrow.

I made up some stuffing using a commercial mix. I substituted olive oil for the butter and stock for the chicken stock or water that was called for. I pressed about a cup of the mix into each of the six cups of an oiled muffin tin and baked it at 350 for about 40 minutes.

I had two pieces of seitan and a couple of the stuffing muffins for dinner tonight. I'll have the same at the family gathering tomorrow.

Day 45/180: Fried Tofu on Rice

Cut a slab of tofu into 3/4" slices and marinated it in ground chilis and tamari. Then I fried it up until it was crisp on the outside. as it drained on a paper towel I stir fried some celery ginger and garlic, then mixed it all to gether and served it on a bed of brown basmati rice with a dollop of Hoi Sin.

Nov 22, 2011

Vegetable Stock and Dashi

I'm tired of worrying about using the term "V stock" when I'm tired of typing out "vegetable stock", so please just assume that, when I say stock from now on, I mean vegetable stock.

 I also use dashi made with kombu seaweed or shiitake mushrooms or both. If I think that the difference is important I'll specify which type it is.


Day 44/180: From sublime to adequate

A busy Monday.

I had a restless night, perhaps because of the tofu dinner, and got up later than I expected. I knew that I was going to be doing taxi service to Logan at about noon, but was pleased to get a call from the passengers, my wife's uncle and cousin, inviting me to lunch at the local townie bistro.

I was pleased on two accounts. First, I really enjoy their company and conversation. Second, I know that this dinky little restaurant has good food with a couple of vegetarian options. We had a great 45 minute conversation over coffee, chocolate milk, a ham and egg breakfast, a BLT, and for me a roasted red pepper, tomato, and pesto sandwich on a delicious home-made, multi-grain, bread.

When I got back, I did some further straightening of the kitchen, read some of "The Book of Miso" and threw together a quick and dirty TVP chili for dinner.

I need to remember to get myself a copy of the latest edition of Frances Moore LappĂ©'s "Diet for a Small Planet". I can't find my old copy and the last time I saw it it was leaking pages all over the place. It was from that book I made my first batch of mujaddara (although, as I remember it, she called it mjeddrah). I must have been "blivved-out" for the last decade or three since I see that she has several vegetarian books and a number of political books as well ... one just released this year.

It may sound as if I have a lot of cookbooks, but that's not the case. I have three Indian cookbooks, 1 Chinese, 1 sorta macrobiotic, 1 Moosewood, there's a Tassajara Bread Book skulking around the cupboards somewhere and I think that's about it. My mother is threatening to dump a ton of cookbooks on me as she downsizes. If she does, I'll probably pass most of them along to other family members since, as I mentioned before, I tend to take recipes less as instructions than as possibilities. I tend to read cookbooks at night in bed and wait until the next day when I've forgotten the specifics to do the  cooking.

I know, I know, I'm a real wild child.

If anyone is trying the recipes I post, I hope that you're approaching them the same way. If recipes weren't meant to be tweaked we wouldn't have developed tastebuds.

Day 43/180: Arrgh

I think my system must be re-aligning itself.

I spent the day cleaning jars and arranging things. I had never separated my foods from that of the rest of the family, so I decided to clear some room for them and move all my stuff to a single cupboard.

When I was done, I was tired and in no mood to cook. I also wanted to give the others a treat. So I went to the Chinese takeout place downtown and ordered General Gau Chicken for them and Spicy Vegetarian Tofu for me.

Well ... something went wrong!

About ten minutes after finishing my plate of tofu, vegetables and rice I wished I hadn't. It's hard to tell what exactly was the culprit. The sauce was a little too sweet so it could have been a reaction to the sugar (my body doesn't like sugar in large doses), it tasted like there may have been a tad too much MSG (though they claim not to use it), but I'm wondering if they used chicken broth. If it was either of the last two, then it means that I can't really trust that place again. Whatever the cause, I was briefly ill.

In fact, since I can't tell the cause (and they won't say), I guess I'll just have to avoid it. It's probably just as well.

Day 42/180: A bit of this and that

Saturday was a busy day. I drove to the South Shore to help my mother with some stuff in her new apartment. I got a large collection of storage jars (glass, with metal bails and rubber gaskets) as a prize for my work. I'll dump much of the contents, wash them well inside and out and use them as airtight containers for my staple food bases and spices. I also got copies of "The Book of Miso" and "The Book of Tofu" both by Shurtleff and Aoyagi..

By the time I got back I was too tired to do anything extravagant, and still had some roasting vegetables that needed to be used up, so dinner was roasted veggies again. This time, instead of tahini, I used tamarind chutney mixed with oil for the baste. It worked well.

I'm starting to think of certain foods as bases. To borrow a concept from my younger son's medium, these foods are the prepared and gessoed canvases or "grounds" on which I lay the colors (flavors) of the vegetables and spices that I have on my palette (cupboards and refrigerator).

That's not to say that these bases don't have flavors of their own, They have to be there to provide the unifying factors that hold the brighter colors of the spices and added vegetables in a comprehensible position.

The most common bases are: grains, lentils (by which I mean not just the red and green types, but all of the various dhals), tofu, tempeh, gluten (for seitan), vegetable stock and even water.

It's useful and cost effective to buy lentils and grains in bulk. For example, I can get four pounds of chickpea flour at the Indian grocery in Cambridge for the same price that I'd pay for one pound in a local supermarket (if they even had it). Sometimes it makes sense to buy in bulk. When you do, you need a good way to store it, so the jars are a major score for me.

A word of caution though. Don't buy in bulk unless you're sure that you're going to use it. Buy small amounts of unfamiliar foods until you are sure that this is something that you're going to add to your cooking routine. Let me give you an example from personal experience.

There is a cookbook that I like a lot, so much so that one of these days I'm going to buy a copy instead of taking it out of the library and copying recipes. (I've been saying that since 1987!) It's called "Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking" by Yamuna Devi. My first attempt at something beyond generic curry, was her recipe for Mutter Panir". The thing about the recipes in LKC is that Devi, for religious (Vedic?) reasons, uses asafoetida (hing) as a substitute for onion, garlic and other lily bulbs.

Wanting to be as true to the recipe as possible, I bought some hing. I think that I've used it three times in the last 24 years. About, 2 months ago I found the container lurking behind a stack of old cookbooks and threw it out. I have nothing against the stuff, it just doesn't fit into my cooking style. Since I use recipes as suggestions rather than rules, all I need to do is tweak the recipe a bit, adding in the lilies and substituting extra firm tofu for the panir (since I don't eat dairy).

I seem to be drifting a bit. My point was, that I had bought a tiny container of hing instead of the large economy-size. I still wasted most of it, but I felt less guilty throwing out a container that cost one dollar than one that cost five bucks.

Nov 18, 2011

Day 41/180: Roasted Veggie Reprise

Back on Day 19 I made Roasted Vegetables with Kasha. Today I revisited it with a few tweaks. I'm not going to formalize it with a recipe since the modifications are pretty easy.

I used Brussels sprouts, eggplant, baby russet potatoes, baby purple potatoes, parsnips, and small white (boiling) onions. I sliced the eggplant, salted it and let it sit for a couple of hours then drained off the juice. I cut the potatoes and Brussels sprouts in half and sliced the parsnip thin.

I tossed all of these in a bowl with a mixture of olive oil, tahini, and crushed garlic, the arranged them all on two baking pans and roasted them for 30 minutes at 375. I served them with rice that had been cooked with a tsp of Chinese 5 spice mixture.

Oddly enough I had to make a big batch because I shared the dinner with my wife (will wonders never cease), and son. My wife claimed to enjoy hers, My youngest son's portion is still waiting for him to emerge from his current creative, art school end-of-term frenzy long enough to take sustenance.

Day 40/180: Pasta con Funghi

This is a dangerously rich dish. It is also amazingly simple.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup dried mushrooms (Any type should do. I used a mix of shiitake and porcini.)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock or bouillon
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs flour
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • Enough pasta for 1 person

Method

  1. Rehydrate the mushrooms in the V stock or bouillon. (You should do this at least an hour ahead of cooking, or you can put the stuff in the microwave to shorten the anticipation.)
  2. Start the pasta cooking. (I don't need to tell you how to do that, do I?)
  3. Crush and mince the garlic.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet on medium low.
  5. Add the garlic.
  6. Add the flour.
  7. Stir with a fork until the flour has soaked up all the oil and is turning golden.
  8. Add the mushrooms and the stock.
  9. Stir.
  10. Add pepper and basil.
  11. Stir some more.
  12. Add more stock to get to your preferred consistency.
  13. Remove from heat.
  14. Drain pasta.
  15. Combine.

This stuff is potent and a little goes a long way.


Day 39/180: Relapse

I was still feeling unwell on Wednesday, so I stuck to a simple dinner of miso soup and rye toast.

I'm not sure what is causing this malaise, it's no more than a slightly queasy feeling accompanied by sniffles.

Nov 15, 2011

Mushroom Potato Soup with Miso

I'm feeling a bit better so I built myself something a bit more substantial than plain miso soup.

Ingredients

  • 6 medium button mushrooms
  • 1 leftover baked potato
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 scallions
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seed
  • 1 Tbs chickpea miso or other shiromiso (white miso)
  • 2-3 cups of cold V stock
  • olive oil

Method

  1. Grind the mustard seed coarsely.
  2. Smash and mince the garlic.
  3. Quarter the mushrooms.
  4. Chop the scallions, reserving the green parts for garnish.
  5. Peel the potato or scoop out the insides.
  6. Mash the potato and miso with a little stock until well blended.
  7. Put a saucepan on medium low.
  8. Add olive oil.
  9. When it sizzles add the garlic, scallions, mustard seed.
  10. Stir.
  11. Add the mushrooms.
  12. Stir until cooked.
  13. Add the potato mixture.
  14. Stir some more.
  15. Add the V stock.
  16. Turn the heat down to simmer.
  17. Cook until the soup is the desired thickness.
  18. Pour into a bowl and garnish with scallions.

Serve with toasted rye bread.

Day 38/180: Miso soup for lunch

I woke up early this morning feeling stuffy, achy, and discombobulated. My head had the kind of buzz that you get when you've been awake for 48 hours. A vagrant headache keeps migrating to different parts of my skull. My sinuses aren't stuffed-up but my head feels like they are.

I had a lot I needed to do today, but I've put it all off until tomorrow and Thursday. I'll just sit at the keyboard redolent of Tiger Balm and trying to will some work out of my fingers.

Soup is good for boosting your morale when you're sick, so I went out to the kitchen a little while ago and put the kettle on. I set out two mugs; one for some Kuan Yin tea and the other for some miso soup.

As the water was heating, I put a heaping tablespoon of Dandelion Leek miso into a cup and toasted half a sheet of nori over another burner to crisp it. Then I crumbled the nori over the miso. South River's miso is excellent stuff. It's hard to believe that I've gone through so much of it in so short a time. Sometime this week I'm going to have to order another batch.

When the kettle whistled, I filled the cups and brought them back to my study. The soup is gone now and I'm slowly enjoying the tea. I'm feeling better. I think that I might stick to miso soup for dinner tonight. It may just be my imagination but I think it may be good for what ails me.




Nov 14, 2011

Day 37/180: Deconstructed Baba Ganoush with Roasted Vegetables

The idea for this recipe came to me as I was looking at some seed catalogs. I was admiring the eggplant varieties when it occurred to me that the components of Baba Ganoush would work well separately.

Ingredients

  • 1 small eggplant
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 4 large button mushrooms
  • 6-8 small white onions
  • 2 tsp tahini
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • more olive oil


Method

  1. Slice the eggplant into 1/2" thick rounds.
  2. Place eggplant in a bowl and salt it.
  3. Come back an hour later.
  4. Heat the oven to 375.
  5. Slice bell pepper into strips.
  6. Peel the onions and remove the root and tip.
  7. Slice the mushrooms in half.
  8. Crush but do not mince 1 clove of garlic (the others are for the sauce).
  9. Drain the liquid from the eggplant.
  10. Add a couple of glugs of olive oil to the bowl.
  11. Put all the vegetables (except the garlic) into the bowl and toss until well coated with oil.
  12. Place vegetables on a shallow baking pan with the crushed garlic clove in the middle. (Optional: you can dust the eggplant rounds with a spice mix.)
  13. Place pan on center rack in oven for 35 minutes.
  14. Crush and mince remaining garlic cloves.
  15. Combine the garlic with the remaining ingredients in a small bowl.
  16. Mix well.
  17. After 35 minutes, turn the oven off.
  18. Put the pan under the broiler for about two minutes, or until the vegetables start to brown.
  19. Let the vegetables cool for a minute.
  20. Arrange tastefully on a plate.
  21. Drizzle the sauce over the eggplant.

This was one of the nicest meals I've made.



Day 36/180: Boring

Didn't get a chance to shop or plan so I fell back on my go to recipe of vegetarian chili. Hardly worth documenting.

Nov 12, 2011

Day 35/180: Recipe Malfunction

I tried an experiment today, combining spices, gluten and TVP to make a kind of burger or meatball. It tasted okay but it just didn't hold together properly. Further experimentation will be needed before I can publish a recipe. What a bummer!

I gave up alcohol a week ago (at least for a while), but after tonight's failure I could use some solace. Since I can't expend any additional will-power, I guess I'll just go to bed.

Day 34/180: Dinner out

Spent the day doing errands and decided to go out to dinner. My wife had teriyaki salmon. I had a seaweed salad and a plate of General Tso's Tofu with broccoli and steamed rice.

Day 33/180: Nameless Stir-fry

I just had to use up the pea pods and other veggies. So I made a quick stir-fry and served it over saffron rice. Other than that I spent my day writing instead of obsessing about food.

Nov 9, 2011

Day 32/180: Shiitake Happens Soup

This recipe just jumped into my head. I had a good pot of V(egetable) stock on the stove. I can't remember everything that was in it, but there were two stalks of celery, the ends and paper of three yellow onions, about half a small hand of ginger, the roots and wilted leaves of about 10 scallions, a couple of carrot tops and tips, and (oddly) some leftover lima beans that my wife thoughtfully added. It had been brewing for a couple of days. In addition, someone had given me an abundance of dried shiitake mushrooms.

Ingredients

  • 10 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 cups V stock
  • 1-2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs flour
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder

Method

  1. Reconstitute 4 shiitakes in the stock.
  2. Put remaining shiitakes into a food processor and pulse until you have primarily mushroom powder.
  3. Add 1 cup V stock to mushroom powder in the food processor and pulse to mix well.
  4. Chop the 4 shiitakes into small chunks.
  5. Peel, smash and mince the garlic.
  6. Put a small saucepan (1 qt) on medium low.
  7. Add the oil.
  8. Add the garlic.
  9. Add the flour.
  10. Add the curry powder.
  11. Stir until it forms a nice roux.
  12. Add 2 cups V stock to the saucepan.
  13. Stir well.
  14. Add the mushroom mess from the food processor.
  15. Stir well.
  16. Add the mushroom chunks.
  17. Turn the heat to barely simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes, adding more V stock if needed.
I had a cup of this a while ago and it is rich. I'm saving the rest for dinner which I'll flesh (so-to-speak) out with a cherry tomato, sliced zucchini, and peapod salad tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

On Vegetable Stock

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I grew up in a family that made a religion out of frugality and it affected me deeply. One of the things that has kept me fat is a horror of waste that is so ingrained that I act as a repository of leftovers in order to keep them from being thrown out.

A hamburger or piece of steak that remains uneaten after the nightly meal of my omnivorous housemates will, because of their habits and prejudices, end up sitting on a plate in the microwave or the fridge until it mummifies and is discarded. I could save it from the garbage can or compost heap. I could ... but, as much as it bothers me, I won't.

One thing that helps me keep my mind off this compulsion is my pot of vegetable stock. I have gotten into the habit of washing all my vegetables well and when I prepare them, putting the peel and trimmings into a saucepan that sits on a back burner and simmers sometimes for days. Other stuff also goes into the pot;  floppy celery, wilted lettuce, soft ginger, stems of dried shiitake mushrooms and fresh herbs that are past their prime.

Spices go in too. If I grind up too much cumin, coriander, mustard, etc. rather than waste it, it goes into the pot. The only thing that doesn't go in are the leaves and stems of the nightshades like tomato, potato, aubergine (eggplant), and bell pepper.

Every time I go out to the kitchen for a cup of tea or a glass of water, I top up the pot with more filtered water. Every couple of days I strain the solids out and put the stock in the fridge and start a new pot. The flavor and color of the stock varies according to what goes into the pot, but I've never yet had a bad batch.

The resulting stock is useful as a soup base (especially considering the sodium content of commercial stocks and bouillons) as liquid for cooking rice, quinoa, bulghur, etc. It is delicious and rich and a good reason to be a frugal herbivore.

Nov 8, 2011

Day 31/180: Stuffed Portobellos and Baby Potatoes

Simple thing today. Two large mushroom caps stuffed with a mixture of breadcrumbs, herbs, garlic, and minced mushroom stems, placed in a roasting pan with 6 tiny potatoes and roasted at 375 for 35 minutes. A small lettuce and cherry tomato salad on the side with an olive oil and tamarind chutney dressing.

Nov 7, 2011

Day 30/180: Tortillas

TVP with onions, chili powder and a touch of V8 juice wrapped in two whole wheat tortillas. It was almost too much for one meal.

On Salt

You may have noticed that I seldom mention salt in my recipes. There are several reasons for that.

  1. I figure that anyone reading my recipes is going to be smart enough to season their food to their own taste.
  2. Except in certain instances salt isn't required and can be added at the table if needed.
  3. I restrict my salt intake (heart attack ... remember) so the amounts that I add to one part of the meal may depend on the amount of salt already in other parts.

Vegetarian bouillon, for example, is extremely salty. Even 1 cube of a low-sodium varieties will constitute a major percentage of my daily intake. The recommendation for someone my age is 1500 mg/day. (If I were younger it would be about 2400 mg/day. Most people eat 3400 mg/day or more.) If I use Better Than Bouillon Low-sodium Vegetable Base it is 500 mg or 1/3 of my daily allowance. If I use a standard Knorr's Vegetarian Vegetable Bouillon cube it runs 840 mg or more than half of what I should have and that means  I can't have any miso soup that day. There's a Swiss company, Rapunzel, that makes a "No Salt Added" vegetarian bouillon that has just 130 mg. I've ordered some.

It's really amazing what you find when you start reading labels. Almost anything that is ready-made is loaded with salt. Salad dressings, canned soups, pasta sauces, even some canned chickpeas are all laden with the stuff.

Restaurants can be really tricky. Good ones will post their nutritional values online, but you'd think that having posted them they'd look at them and say, "wait a minute ... there's something out of whack." One of my favorite restaurants has some items on their menu that contain more than 2700 mg, almost twice my daily allowance and more than the recommended amount for a healthy young person.

But let's fill out the meal. That nice complementary Foccacia bread with the oil and Parmesan dipping sauce runs about 700mg.  Their big glasses hold 16 oz of soda (70 mg). A lettuce based salad (20 mg) with toppings (395 mg) dressing (usually around 300 mg) and a slice of Key lime pie (536 mg) for dessert will round up the meal. So for that one meal you have consumed 4721 mg of sodium!

Okay, I'm not going to rant about this any more. People love salt and they have to make their own decisions (until their bodies start making decisions for them). I'm not the salt police. So add as much or as little as you want.

Day 29/180: Easy Stir Fry

I still had snow pea pods, scallions, carrots, ginger, etc. left from the stir fry the other night, so I made it again. I added reconstituted dried shiitake to supplement it since I wasn't using seitan. I served it over brown rice cooked in water containing a little tumeric.

Day 28/180: Seitanic Stew

Two things to get out of the way.

  1. Yes, I know this post should be labeled Day Twenty Late. Sorry. I wish I could promise that it will never happen again but I'd be lying if I did.
  2. No, I will probably never get enough of making silly puns on the word "seitan".

That's out of the way, so let's talk food. The smallest batch of seitan that I've made uses a cup of gluten and makes about eight good-sized pieces. That means that, since I only used two pieces of the curry seitan for my stir fry on Day 27, I had to find some ways to use up the rest.

So I fried some up as steaks for breakfast leaving me with four to go. So I put two of them in a plastic bag and put them in the freezer to see how that worked. While I was trying to find room, I noticed a bag of thick slices of raw butternut squash that I'd left there a few weeks ago, and two solutions popped into my head. If I took out the squash there'd be room for the seitan and, with a frost on the ground, it was a great night for a stew. I had a good idea for the recipe.

Seitanic Stew
Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb (more or less) butternut squash
  • 2 seitan steaks (mine are about 6" x 3" x 3/4" so increase or decrease accordingly)
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 large potato or 3 small ones
  • 2 Tbs curry powder (I ran out of Bolst's which is my favorite so I ended up using a namby-pamby Madras-style) 
  • Peanut or some other cooking oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 1 tsp mustard seed
  • 1 dried chili
  • Water or vegetable stock

Method

  1. Dice the onion and squash.
  2. Put a small amount of oil in a saucepan on medium heat, and fry the onion until translucent.
  3. Turn the heat to barely simmer.
  4. Add two cups of water or V stock.
  5. Add curry powder.
  6. Add the squash.
  7. Add enough additional water or stock to cover the squash (if necessary).
  8. Cover pot.
  9. Cook for a few hours.
  10. Mash the squash with a fork (or put it through a food processor and return it to the pan).
  11. Slice the seitan into strips.
  12. Cut the potato into 1" cubes.
  13. Add seitan and potato to the squash.
  14. Continue to cook on barely simmer for another hour or so.

Just before serving:

  1. Dry pan roast the cumin and mustard seed in a small skillet.
  2. When the mustard starts to pop pour the seeds into a mortar or suribachi.
  3. Add the dried chili.
  4. Grind well. 
  5. Add 2 Tbs of oil to the skillet.
  6. Add the spices to the oil.
  7. Sizzle very briefly. (Don't let it burn!)
  8. Serve the stew with a drizzle of the spiced oil. (Don't overdo it, there should be enough oil for three bowls or more.)
If you know Indian cooking you'll recognize the last section as being a kind of "tarka", a topping usually used with dhal (lentils). It works well with other dishes too.

I need to write up a shopping list. I have a sudden craving for papadums.

Nov 4, 2011

Day 27/180: Seitan's Stir-fry

I should have done this on the 31st, just for the sound of it. I'm not going to make this a formal recipe since it was made up as I went along.

First the seitan. I used the standard recipe, but reduced the amount of water in the dough so the proportions were 1 cup gluten to 7/8 cup water. I also added about 3 Tbs of curry powder to the dry gluten before mixing. I used about four cups of water, a vegetarian bouillon cube and about 3 Tbs of light soy sauce for the boiling mixture.

I cooked it for an hour and took the seitan out to cool. I used the remaining liquid to make a small pot of couscous and mushrooms.

After it cooled and drained, I sliced the seitan into thin strips and stir-fried it with 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1 Tbs minced fresh ginger, 4 baby carrots cut in thirds, 1 small zucchini sliced with a rolling cut, three scallions, and about 8 snow pea pods. At the end I added a corn starch soy sauce and water mixture to make a gravy.

It was excellent.

I think my next seitan experiment may be to use chili powder in the mix.



Nov 3, 2011

Day 26/180: Spaghet ... no ... Chili!

I had reconstituted the TVP and was halfway through the preparation of spaghetti sauce when I suddenly decided that I didn't want to bother cooking pasta. So I added a couple of heaping tsps of chili powder and cooked it up then poured it onto some flour tortillas, rolled them up and there was dinner.

The big difference this time is that I hydrated the TVP with 2 Tbs of Hoisin mixed with boiling water. It was good, but a little too sweet for my taste.

Day 23-25/180: Am I lazy or just uninspired?

My son, who may be the only reader of this blog, just nudged me about not posting anything for a few days. Well, I haven't had a lot to communicate.


  • Monday was relatively simple ... commercial veggie burgers and a salad.
  • Tuesday was hummus, celery sticks and carrot sticks in a whole wheat flour tortilla. Two of them.
  • Wednesday I was getting ready to make something new, but I ended up taking my wife out to dinner. She had a chicken quesadilla and I had vegetarian spring rolls and ... another veggie burger. This one, however, was much better than the packaged patties. It was a patty-shaped combination of brown rice, black beans, caramelized onions and barbecue sauce.