*Or, ACD-Friendly Fast Food. Or, Intercultural Lasagna. Or, What to Do with those Nearly-Stale Nacho Chips.
Even though these days it takes me almost 15 minutes before I can stand up fully erect after first rolling out of bed (in which I sleep on my back, with 2 pillows under my knees so my spine can retain its proper curvature) in the morning; even though driving at night has become more and more an exercise in blinking and squinting than a convenient means to return home after a dinner out; even though I sometimes do a double take when walking by a mirror after thinking, “What the heck is my mother doing in there??”; even though my students perceive me more as a Nanny McPhee than a Sheba Hart–even though all these things are true, I still can’t help but feel as if, internally, I’m the same person I was in my 20s.
Getting older can really be a shock to the system, let me tell you. One of my class projects in nutrition school was to assess how sensory perception changes over time. Boy, was that ever a wakeup call! (Then again, it would have to be a much louder wakeup call if I were in my 80s). You see, for every year you age past, oh, about 18, each of your five senses diminishes. And the older you get, the more quickly and more dramatically they do so. (Are you depressed yet? Don’t worry, you will be–that’s more common when you’re older, too).
So, while we all may realize that sight and hearing fade with age (a 70 year old needs three times the light of a 20 year-old to see accurately–no wonder septuagenarians shouldn’t be driving!), most of us don’t really think about how our sense of taste diminishes as we grow older.
Well, the HH and I must be bordering on superannuation. (Okay, actually, it’s just the HH, but I didn’t want to make him to feel bad. That is, if he can still feel anything at his age).
I’ve noticed lately that the HH has started pronouncing my cooking ”not spicy enough” or “too bland” or “not flavorful enough” even when it seems fine to me (or is something that isn’t supposed to be spicy, like mock tuna or stroganoff. A recent exception was the vegan pasta carbonara, which he scarfed down anyway). Could it be that his taste buds are feeling a little exhausted after 50+ years of operation? Not sure. But I do know that what we eat has become more and more piquant over the years.
True, I’ve always enjoyed spicy eats, but my tolerance–and desire–for ramping up the heat has definitely increased of late. I’ll never forget a dinner party to which I was invited by my office mate when I first began teaching at the college; she had just come back from seven years living in Mexico and promised us an authentic feast.
While the rest of us guzzled cold drinks between tiny nibbles of fiery-hot mole appetizers, our hostess calmly plucked an entire jalapeno from a plate and, hoisting it by the stem, popped it in her mouth. Then she continued to relay her anecdote while chewing contemplatively, never even breaking a sweat. I was truly amazed by her seemingly asbestos-lined palate at the time; little did I know I’d be eating whole jalapenos myself (at least I stuff mine with goat “cheese” first) two decades later.
One evening last week, I had dinner plans with friends and wanted to leave something for the HH to enjoy at home. After viewing at least a dozen enchiladacasseroles on otherblogs as a result of the Daring Cooks event last month (plus Celine’s Mucho Macho Nachos and Angela’s Time Crunch Vegan Enchiladas) I was craving Mexican food. We had all the ingredients on hand, so I thought I would whip up some of the HH’s favorite nachos. Of course, I knew that jalapenos were non-negotiable. Not to mention super-spicy salsa (arriba!). Plus, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to make just a single platter versus the two we usually make: his, with ground beef and melted cheese; mine, with crumbled tempeh or tofu and cheesy sauce.
I grabbed all the ingredients and began prepping. Only one problem: the already-opened bag of nacho chips had been sitting too long, and the chips had lost their snap, bordering on stale. What to do?
Of course, I could have thrown them away. But that would have traumatized my inner frugalista. I could have given them to The Girls with their supper (“We vote for that choice, Mum!”), but that wouldn’t help with my dinner needs. What if I simply tossed all the ingredients into a casserole dish, and let them bake up? I envisioned a super quick, nacho-meets-enchilada dish. And so, the new, fast-food, ACD-friendly, Mexican nacholada casserole was born.
I mixed everything up and left it on the counter with a simple note:
Here’s a casserole for dinner. Heat at 350 for about 25 minutes, then take as much as you’d like. Have fun with The Girls!
xoxoxoxo kiss kiss kiss
Upon my return that night, I casually inquired, “Um, so how was the casserole?”
It’s true, the dish was so fiery hot it may have finally triggered the HH’s antiquated taste buds (in fact, you may wish to tone down the jalapeno screaming a few decibels in your own dish). True, I didn’t disclose in advance that this casserole was simply a new, unfamiliar twist on his oft-rejected vegan nachos. True, the HH was on his own that night, and would probably prefer to eat rose petals dipped in sand than have to whip up something of his own. Whatever the reason, the dish was a huge hit.
“That stuff was delicious!” he exclaimed. ”I loved it. You can definitely make that again.” (Hee hee). Even after I revealed that it contained tempeh and cheesy sauce, he was still enthusiastic. “Well, I don’t know why, but this time it tasted great,” he insisted (of course he forgot there hadn’t been a “last time,” since he’s always refused to try it in the past). Triumph!
I’m hoping this is the end of separate nacho platters from now on in the DDD household.
As is so often the case, the HH’s initial skepticism was overruled by the transformative deliciousness of my plant-based meal. And luckily, despite his natural penchant for meat, he’s happy to embrace a vegan meal “if it tastes good.” I guess that’s just one more reason why I’ve decided to stick around as we grow old(er) together.
* No, I didn’t really write, “HH” or “Ricki” on my note–I used our usual pet names for each other. But the HH would never speak to me again if I published them on the blog!
Layered Mexican Casserole
I call this “fast food” because it’s one of the few dishes I don’t make entirely from scratch. Jarred salsa is fine on the ACD if you find an organic brand with no added sweetener, vinegar, or other taboo ingredients. This casserole is a great way to use up less-than-fresh nacho chips (the chips absorb the moisture from salsa and cheese to become soft inside and crunchy on the edges of the casserole dish), but if your chips still crispy, feel free to assemble these ingredients in regular nacho fashion.
About 4 cups (1 L) nacho chips (or enough for 2 layers of overlapping chips in a 10-inch/25 cm casserole dish)–I used tri-color ones by Que Pasa
1 jar (about 2 cups/500 ml) medium or hot salsa of your choice (I used Neal Brothers)
** For ACD Stage I, use brazil nuts or macadamia nuts instead of cashews; use 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) powdered mustard.
Quick tempeh crumbles: In a large sauce pan, crumble one package (12 ounces or 350 g) tempeh. Add 1 cup (240 ml) vegetable broth or stock; 1-2 Tbsp (15-30 ml) Braggs liquid aminos, tamari or soy sauce; 5-10 drops liquid smoke or 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) smoked paprika; and 2-5 drops liquid stevia. Bring to boil over medium heat, then cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed and the tempeh just begins to brown. Use in this casserole, in pasta sauces, sprinkled on salads, or in sandwiches.
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Spray a 10-inch (25 cm) casserole dish with nonstick spray or lightly grease with oil.
Place a single layer of nacho chips in the bottom of the casserole dish, taking care to overlap so that little, if any, of the bottom of the dish is visible. Dollop about half the salsa randomly over the chips. Sprinkle with half each of the tempeh, beans, red or green pepper, jalapeno and olives; then drizzle half the cheese sauce over all. For the top layer, repeat the process, setting aside the peppers and olives; once the cheese sauce has been added, sprinkle the top with peppers and olives.
Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until the casserole is hot throughout and the top of the cheese begins to brown slightly. Remove from oven and allow to sit 10 minutes before scooping out onto plates. Garnish with chopped cilantro, if desired. Makes 4-6 large servings. May be frozen.
The past couple of weeks have been beyond hectic here at the DDD household, what with a surprise party (at my place) for my office mate; a wedding shower (no, not mine–okay, breathe normally now); two new courses to prepare for my return to teaching next week (what?? Seriously, is my vacation over already?); and some heavy-duty baking from Sweet Freedomso I could deliver samples to a slew of people. Not to mention the energy it took to get over my excitement at having Ellen read my cookbook!**
With all this frenzied activity, I haven’t had a huge amount of time for cooking–at least, cooking anything that takes up more time than your standard elevator pitch. I searched through my mental archives for quick, easy recipes–and then I remembered Leticia.
Leticia (well, actually, I don’t remember her real name, but I do know it was seemed somewhat exotic to me at the time, and it started with “L” and ended with “A”), was a fellow don in residence when I was there during my PhD years. And who knows more about the ins and outs of “quick and easy” food than students living in residence over the long and lonely summer months?
Leticia (or was it Lydia?) was a new-agey, hip and–to my mind–somewhat radical young woman. One evening as we sat out enjoying the summer air on the residence balcony, she casually revealed to me that she’d once married another student during her undergraduate years, simply to help him avoid deportation. Wow! How daring! How outré! How anti-establishment! How illegal!
I was in awe of her.
Lydia (or Leora) was tall and thin as bullrushes, with thick, frazzled brown hair that seemed to be suspended around her square face like a floating birds’ nest, its stray strands protruding at erratic angles. She had a tendency to wear loose cotton dresses that were either tie-dyed or hand-painted, sporting faded splotches of color like an artist’s smock that had been bleached over and over. Leora (Larissa?) actually had a very pretty face, with large, heavy-lidded eyes and Angelina Jolie lips. And when Larissa (or Lorena) spoke, it was in a low, deep whisper like an FM radio announcer, as if she’d just unearthed a scandalous childhood secret.
Because of her Italian background, Lorena/Ludmilla informed me, she was an expert on pasta. One evening, when the two of us roamed the otherwise empty corridors in the residence hall, she invited me to share her pasta carbonara. I was entranced by how quickly it came together: she boiled the pasta, tossed it with a couple of beaten eggs and threw in crumbled bacon that had been fried as the pasta boiled. The final touch was a handful of green peas; the entire dish was then topped with grated parmesan cheese and a liberal grinding of black pepper. I was amazed at how creamy the eggy sauce was, and how well the smoky bacon complemented the almost-instant satiny coating.
Never mind that I don’t eat bacon any more; the idea of eating raw egg (the heat of the pasta supposedly flash-cooks it) is, to my current-day digestive system, repulsive. But the ease of preparation, the creamy-and-smoky texture and flavor combination–well, those still appeal. Big time.
So I set about finding recipes for pasta carbonara that I could adapt to my current dietary limitationss. And you know what? Not one of them contained peas! I’m not sure if the peas were Latoya’s own addition or if they were generated by my imagination, but I couldn’t conceive of the dish without them. So my version may not be conventional–but then again, neither was Lillianna.
After examining various other vegan pasta carbonara recipes, from Vegan Dad’s coconut-milk based to Urban Vegan’s with white wine to a more conventional recipe, I decided to go with my gut and create my own soy-free, wine-less version. I still wanted the sauce to be creamy and eggy (but without any resemblance to raw eggs). For the bacon, I adapted the tempeh recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance to create a super-quick, non-marinated version; and since I loved Loretta”s original creation so much, I retained the peas in the mix.
The result was a silky smooth sauce infused with a hint of smokiness from the bacon and a surprise burst of sweetness on occasion from the peas. As is our wont when I cook a vegan main course, the HH and I sat down to individual plates so he could doctor his up with something more animal-centric. With the the tub of parmesan by his side–something he perfunctorily dusts on every pasta dish I make–he decided to taste the pasta first, au naturel.
Slowly, he chewed, moving the penne around in his mouth, carefully assessing the flavor. He swallowed.
“You know,” he said, “it doesn’t actually need the cheese. I’m just going to eat it like this.”
It doesn’t need the cheese! He ate it just like that! TRIUMPH!
So we ate the pasta carbonara, the HH and I, both equally happy with its warm, filling, flavorful sauce and meaty, smoky bits of tempeh bacon. As he cleaned his plate, the HH pronounced, “I don’t think you could improve on this with anything.” (I nearly fainted.) ”It’s perfect as it is.” Well, knock me over with a feather! (Okay, it would have to be a pewter statue of a feather, because, as we all know, an actual feather would have no impact on me whatsoever. . .but whatever).
If you’re looking for a quick and delicious weekday dinner and feel like some pasta, give this a try. In no time, you’ll have a dinner that’s not only toothsome, but slightly unconventional and really hip, too. Like Lucinda. Or Leticia. Or whoever she was.
** (The quest continues–so please feel free to let Ellen know if you’d like to see me on the show! You will win a free copy of Sweet Freedom if I’m on! Click here to send her a comment about how talented and witty I am. Oh, and what a good cook, too. )
When you feel like something substantial but don’t have the time, try this quick and easy sauce. If you’re too rushed to make tempeh bacon, you can use diced smoked tofu, or your favorite brand of prepared “bacon”.
1 recipe of your favorite tempeh bacon (see above)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) smooth natural cashew butter
1 Tbsp (15 ml) white miso
1 Tbsp (15 ml) tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 tsp (1 ml) dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp (2. 5 ml) turmeric
fine sea salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup soy or almond milk
1 cup (240 ml) vegetable broth or stock
2 Tbsp (30 ml) potato or arrowroot starch
1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh or frozen peas (no need to defrost if frozen)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) chopped fresh parsley
Prepare the bacon: cut the tempeh into strips as thin as you can manage (I got 15 strips). In a large frying pan, mix together the remaining ingredients. Add the tempeh and turn each strip over a few times to coat it in the sauce.
Turn on heat to medium-low and cook the strips for about 5 minutes until the sauce has begun to evaporate and the bottoms are browned; turn the strips and continue to cook the other side, pushing the bacon back and forth occasionally to prevent sticking, until the liquid ingredients have been absorbed and the bacon is browned and crisp on the outside, another 5-10 minutes. If the liquid is absorbed too quickly, add a little more water, as needed. Turn off heat and set aside.
Prepare the pasta: Set your water boiling in a large pot. Cook the pasta according to package directions.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: In a medium pot, whisk together the cashew butter, miso, tahini, mustard, garlic, turmeric, nutmeg, salt and pepper until smooth. Very slowly, whisk in the almond milk, a little at a time, until the mixture is smooth and well combined. Add the vegetable broth and mix again.
Place the potato starch in a small bowl. Add about 1/3 cup (80 ml) of the liquid mixture and whisk until smooth; slowly add this to the liquid in the pot. Heat the mixture in the pot over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it begins to bubble; cook for about a minute more, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and creamy. If the pasta isn’t yet ready, turn off the heat and cover the pot.
Once the pasta is ready, drain it and reserve about 1/2 cup (120 ml) pasta water. Add the pasta to the sauce pot along with the tempeh and peas and continue to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is warmed through, about 10 minutes. If the sauce becomes too dry during this time, add the reserved pasta water (if the sauce remains smooth and doesn’t dry out, you can discard the pasta water). Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve. Makes 4 servings.
After that harrowing ordeal in the airport and the relentless carnival atmosphere of Miami Beach in the first half of our trip, the HH and I were more than ready to head north to Sarasota, where my cousin Marketing Guru (MG) had promised a more serene lifestyle. So let’s hit the road, shall we?
I. En Route to Sarasota: See Ya Later, Alligator
[Can you believe how many alligators live along this stretch of Florida highway?? Me, neither. (Source)].
Leaving Miami, we headed along interstate Route 75, also known as “Alligator Alley.” This 200-mile (320 km) stretch of highway dissecting the Everglades offers the curious sightseer but one image: a seemingly endless vista of flat terrain dotted with the occasional tawny brush, swampland on either side, and a veritable army of alligators poised on either shore, patiently awaiting their lunch (human, perhaps?), effectively sporting their green leathery camouflage. I tried over and over to snap a photo as we whizzed by the monochromatic scenery, to capture only this:
[Can you spot the alligator in this photo? Me, neither.]
Finally, after about 2 hours without pit stops, bathroom breaks, or any other signs of civilized life, we lit upon Naples, then continued right through to Sarasota (with a quick rest stop at a local Sheraton Four Points Punta Gorda).
II. Sarasota: Feed Me!
I was initially a little wary before our reunion with MG,whom I hadn’t seen in about 10 years. It was also the first time I really got to know MG’s wife (MGW), with whom I’d never really spent any quality time. I shouldn’t have fretted: they were both incredibly hospitable, gracious and welcoming, and we four hit it off famously. I mean, for our first dinner out, MG suggested Chutney’s (“where spice is the variety of life”), primarily because “they have a daily vegetarian option.” (Is he a great guy, or what?) The combination Indian and Mediterranean menu provided more than enough choice for this Canuck gal. Thanks, cuz!
A cozy, unassuming atmosphere beckoned and the food, both homey and creative, was excellent. My pick (of course) was the vegetarian curry of the day (with chickpeas and vegetables) along with a hefty portion of the Mediterranean appetizer plate shared by us all (including baba ganouj, hummus, tahini and falafel). We did manage to get back to the house in time for an hour of ice dancing* before falling into bed. All in all, a great first evening!
III. Sarasota: Come Over Here and Give Me a Pug.
One of Sarasota’s most quirky public events is known as the ”Pug Parade.” For this annual festival, every dog owner in the city–nay, the state (and beyond) dresses up her or his pug, then sashays along a runway with said costumed canine to determine which will win the Dog Owner with Way Too Much Time on Their Hands award. (Okay, I made up that last part. But they do choose a winner for best dog costume.).
Well, as it turned out by sheer coincidence, the HH and I arrived on the selfsame weekend as this year’s parade! And by even greater coincidence, Marketing Guru and MGW have a pug! And her name is Misty! And Misty is a former Pug Parade Champion!
Needless to say, we attended this year’s Pug Parade.
Milling about under a massive tent in the center of a local park, I have never seen so many pugs in one place, let alone so many pugs in wildly creative costumes (biker pug with actual tatoos; sushi pug rolled into a giant nori roll; bride pug with bouquet and groom pug; geisha pug; birthday cake pug; ballerlina pug, Tiger Woods pug, Lady GaGa pug, Bug Pug, and any other kind of pug you can imagine). Misty, this time round, was dressed as Pugahontas. Ain’t she cute?
[Can you spot the alligator in this photo? It's right there in front, dressed up as a pug.]
Though she didn’t win this time round, Misty did receive a huge round of applause and several hoots.
Later, as we drove through the idyllic neighborhood with its palm tree-lined streets and placid parklands, the HH and I both marvelled at how beautiful the area was. A planned community, almost the entire city had been built from scratch.
“Oh, when we first moved in, there were still lots of alligators roaming the streets,” MGW told us. “And wild boars everywhere.” Alligators? Wild boars?
I nodded politely. “Wow,” I said. “You guys are brave to have moved here back then. Good thing the alligators have all gone now.”
“Well, not really,” she countered. “They just hang around the ponds now. You can usually spot a few at each pond.” Given there were ponds at just about every intersection, and given I had not yet spied a single solitary alligator with my own eyes, I remained incredulous. We approached another pond.
“Here, take my binoculars,” MGW urged as Marketing Guru slowed the car. I peered through the lenses at the not-so-distant shore. And. . . what the–?? That dark olive-grey mass in front of the trees. . . by George, it WAS an alligator! But wait! There were two more masses beside it, just over there to the right. . . ! And what was that further down the shore–??!! I could feel my skin begin to tingle.
“They stay still during the day, but they generally come out at night,” MGW informed us. “Don’t worry, though, they don’t come up to the houses. . . well, not anymore.”
And just like that, there went my dreams of moving to Sarasota.
Our pre-performance dinner that night took place at Tropical Thai, another quaint spot that served up surprisingly good food. I was, again, surprised and delighted with the number of vegan options (there was even an entire page of Macrobiotic dishes!). I opted for miso soup, followed by a red curry with vegetables and tofu–not as tasty as the previous night’s Indian curry, but satisfying nonetheless.
Then, it seemed, just as we began to really relax and feel at home,** it was suddenly time to return to Toronto. Here we are now, a week after our return, and it feels as if we never left. And as a bonus, we were greeted last week with the biggest snowstorm so far this season. As Pepé le Pew would say, Le sigh.
["Mum, it definitely felt like you left to us. And don't worry about the snow--at least you won't find any alligators living in this climate!]
Well, if I can’t physically remain in Florida, at least I can travel back along the highway of gustatory imagination. I decided to recreate the delectable butternut-edamame hash I savored at Wish in Miami. With small, uniform cubes of roasted butternut squash cozying up to perky green edamame, both awash in a slightly gooey, slightly sweet maple glaze, this hash was the epitome of clean and delicious fare. I had to have it again!
My version uses yacon as a standin for maple syrup in the original, though you should feel free to swap it back if you prefer the latter or can’t find the former (unless you’re also on the ACD, that is, in which case, sorry–maple syrup is verboten).
The bright hues and fresh flavors of this dish are guaranteed to bring a little bit of Florida sunshine into your mealtime. And no alligators, I promise.
*That would be, “watching it on TV,” not “doing it.”
**Not that I’d ever get used to the alligators, however.
Butternut and Edamame Hash (suitable for ACD Phase I or later)
With its combination of sweet squash, chewy edamame and sticky glaze, this high-protein dish makes a perfect accompaniment to any savory main course.
1 small butternut squash, peeled and seeded, cut into 1″ (2.5 cm) cubes
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) fine sea salt
1 cup (240 ml) shelled, cooked edamame
2 Tbsp (30 ml) yacon syrup and 3 Tbsp (30 ml) water OR 1/4 cup (60 ml) pure maple syrup
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp (15 ml) toasted sesame oil
1 tsp (5 ml) arrowroot powder or cornstarch blended with 1/4 cup (60 ml) water until smooth
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) maple flavoring (if using yacon syrup), optional
pinch fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, or spray with olive oil spray. Also spray a casserole or square pan and set aside.
Place the raw squash cubes in a large bowl and drizzle with the olive oil and salt. Toss with your (clean) hands until all the pieces are coated evenly. Spread the squash on the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the cubes are just tender. Remove the squash and reduce the oven heat to 350F (180C).
Meanwhile, in a small pot, combine the yacon/water or maple syrup, garlic, sesame oil and arrowroot mixture until well blended. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils and bubbles; continue to cook and stir for 30 seconds, until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the maple flavoring, if using; season with more sea salt to taste.
Place the squash cubes and edamame in the reserved casserole dish and pour the glaze over them; toss with a large spoon or spatula until all the squares are coated. Reheat in the oven until everything is warmed through, about 10 minutes. Stir again before serving. Makes 4 side servings.
[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I'll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I've recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days. For this fifth edition, I'm focusing on cilantro. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. This is the second entry on cilantro.]
*I originally thought about calling this post, “First Love Three Ways,” but I can only imagine the kinds of search terms that would generate for my blog!
What woman doesn’t remember her first love? Me, I remember my first cookbook.**
Now, don’t get me wrong–of course I remember my first love, too. I met Spaghetti Ears (not his real name***) the summer before I embarked on my Master’s degree, when I was about twenty two. Yes, I was a late bloomer. Okay, I was a really late bloomer. I was a ridiculously late bloomer. A ”So-glad-You-Finally-Made-it-We’ve Already-Finished Dinner-and-the-Dishes-Are-in-the-Dishwasher,” ”Sorry-You’ve-Missed-Your-Appointment-the-Doctor-is-Leaving-Now-and-I’ll-Have-to-Reschedule-You,” “Honey-I’m-Three-Weeks-Overdue-Would-You-Run-to-the-Drugstore-and-buy-a-First-Response-Kit “ kind of late bloomer.
Nevertheless, it was worth the wait. Spaghetti Ears was, truly, an ideal first boyfriend. Smart and funny, sweet and kind, loving and gentle, he was the type of guy who’d draw sappy birthday cards by hand, fill shoe boxes with rose petals to strew across the bed for your anniversary, tell you he loved you at least once a day or buy you opal earrings that, while beautiful, were beyond his budget, just because they were your birthstone and they would look lovely resting on your earlobes. (Hmmm. . . wait a second. . . you mean I broke up with this guy? Was I nuts, or what?)
And now, all these years later, I never even have to wonder what’s become of him, since we’re still friends. We email each other on birthdays and get together for an annual celebratory lunch. He tells me about his work and regales me with proud Papa stories, while I recount stories about The Girls’ antics and other events at the DDD household. (Oh, and sorry, ladies, he’s happily married). Apart from a few more laugh lines and gray hairs, Spaghetti Ears is pretty much the same guy today as he was when we dated.
My first cookbook, on the other hand, is in much worse shape than when we first met. (It’s my fault entirely. I just couldn’t keep my hands off it).
I acquired my first “real” cookbook well into my twenties (told you I was a late bloomer!). When I rented my first apartment on my own, my initial impulse was to think about how I’d furnish it. Oh, no, not with furniture, silly (though of course I’d get some of that, too). I wanted to furnish it with cookbooks, the kitchen being the core and most important room in the place.
Having almost no disposable income at the time, I opted for the Doubleday Book Club, where you could order 9 books for $1.00 (then, you needed only purchase 4 more books at regular Doubleday prices–plus shipping and handling–over the next two years!). I ticked off names based on titles I’d heard or was only vaguely familiar with, such as The Joy of Cooking (I was lucky enough to get mine before the travesty of a second version hit the stands); Maida Heatter’s Great American Desserts(she remains an idol of mine); or the original Moosewood Cookbook, in all its handwritten glory, words and illustrations by the multi-talented Mollie Katzen.
How I loved my Moosewood book! In those first days of breathless infatuation, I tried as many recipes as I could, and always turned to my Moosewood before any other. I made Katzen’s Carrot Loaf (really more like a casserole) more times than I can remember. The cookbook also supplied my introduction to hummus, gazpacho, tabbouleh, plus a host of other wonderful recipes. My love for anything Moosewood was ignited with that seminal tome and never waned. In fact, my dream of dining at the original Moosewood Restaurant was finally realized a few years ago when the HH and I dropped in several times during a stop in Ithaca on our way to Boston.
Fast forward to my first encounter with the ACD ten years ago, when I was desperately seeking recipes that were both tasty and complied with my dietary restrictions. Well, I turned to my beloved once again. This Lemony Baked Tofu from The Moosewood Restaurant New Classicsfit the bill perfectly, and it was the first tofu dish I truly adored. Made with fresh, simple ingredients, the offbeat combination of cilantro, lemon, and jalapeno is transformative here. The acidity of the lemon is tempered during baking so that the final result isn’t the least bit sour; the cilantro also loses a bit of its perfumed quality in the oven, creating a heady mix that’s intensely flavored with spice and just enough camarelization to confer a touch of sweetness.
While it’s incredibly simple to make (I just whizz everything in the food processor) and there are certainly more elaborate or trendy interpretations of tofu around these days (tofuomelets? tofu scallops? tofu ricotta?), I still love this tofu hot as a main course, cold in sandwiches or wraps, or on its own as an afternoon snack (a few slices have also served as breakfast on occasi0n, alongside home fries). Even when the HH went through his “NO-fu” stage and refused to eat most of my standard tofu-based dishes, he would still enjoy slabs of this baked tofu paired with veggies or pasta.
I’ve tried literally dozens of other tofu recipes since then, but this has remained a steadfast favorite. In a way, you might even say that this tofu is yet another one of my first loves. Unlike the human variety, however (and even after ten years together), this recipe remains consistently lovable, has never let me down and can always make me happy, every time I take a bite.
**My first kiss was another story altogether. I was about 15 and, as I recall, one of us was wearing a retainer at the time. I won’t say who.
***That was his actual pet name. Mine was Melon Head. Ah, the quirky charm of young love!
Remarkably versatile, this dish can be eaten plain, in sandwiches or pasta, or any other way you fancy. If you’re not a fan of cilantro, try it with parsley, basil, or even dill–though I’d cut the amount of jalapeno in those cases.
1 cake firm or extra firm tofu (about 1 pound/500 g)
1/2-1 fresh jalapeno pepper, to your taste (remove seeds for less heat)
1/3 cup (80 ml) chopped fresh cilantro (leaves and small stems)
1/2 small onion, roughly chopped, or 1 scallion, roughly chopped
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp (30 ml) tamari or soy sauce (for ACD Stage 1, use Bragg’s liquid aminos)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) agave nectar or organic sugar
1/4 tsp (1 ml) freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup (120 ml) water
Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Spray a nonreactive pan (glass or ceramic) with nonstick spray.
Cut the block of tofu into 10-12 small slabs or 4 thin “steaks.” Set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the jalapeno, cilantro, onion, lemon juice, tamari, olive oil, agave and pepper until smooth. Add the water and process briefly to combine.
Pour about half the marinade in the bottom of the prepared pan and spread to coat the pan. Place the tofu slabs evenly on top of the marinade (try to keep them in a single layer) and pour the rest of the marinade evenly over them. It’s okay if one or two slabs must be doubled up; just pour a little marinade between them as well.
Bake for 45-60 minutes, turning the tofu over once about halfway through. The baked tofu should be browned and bubbling, and there should be almost no liquid left in the pan. Remove to a platter and serve. Makes 4 servings. Will keep, covered in the refrigerator, up to 5 days (as with many tofu dishes, this is actually better the second day).
ACD variation: omit tamari and use Bragg’s aminos instead; omit agave and use 2 drops stevia or equivalent stevia powder.
The close friendship between my buddy Sterlin and me was soldered back in high school, when we first discovered that we were the only two girls in the entire school who had never had a boyfriend (well, I guess there was “BB,” too, but we figured that sleeping with the entire senior class had to count for something).
This revelation prompted an immediate sense of community between us, after which we spent endless hours (in the way that only teenagers can) on the telephone, musing about why we didn’t have a boyfriend, how much we wished we could have a boyfriend, what we would do if we ever got a boyfriend, and what it was other girls like BB had that we didn’t, allowing them to seemingly conjure streams of drooling boys trailing behind them like empty cans tied to a “Just Married” car bumper. Entirely unjustly, we thought, these girls enjoyed a surfeit of boyfriends, while we had to make do with an unrequited crush on our French teacher, Mr. Krauser.
But then, we discovered historical romance novels, and our focus shifted. You know the ones: innocent, nubile, yet spunky lass is swept away (usually literally) by swaggering, swarthy, self-assured rake with a (very well hidden) heart of gold. Over time, he wins her devotion, while she tames his savage nature. Well, we were spunky, weren’t we? Sterlin and I began to daydream, starry-eyed, about meeting a similar hero (even though we never fully understood exactly what a “rake” was) and riding off into the sunset, where he’d unravel the secrets of our nascent womanhood and we would charm his wild heart.
In the books, at least, we could get close to the most desirable of men. For some reason, these novels (at least, the ones I remember) all sported titles pairing two nouns, representing male and female: there was The Wolf and the Dove, and The Flame and The Flower (both Kathleen E. Woodiwiss masterworks) or perhaps The Raven and The Rose or The Pirate and thePagan (both by Virginia Henley). And let’s not forget my favorite, The French Teacher and the Girl with Braces and Long Hair Parted in the Middle Who Liked to Bake (okay, my memory may be a bit fuzzy on that one–high school was a long time ago!).
Well, given our combined paucity of feminine wilesflirting abilitylacy lingerie boyfriend-attracting attributes, we eventually decided to woo our guys with food (the way to a man’s heart, and all that). So Sterlin developed Date Pasta as her staple, while I attempted to perfect an ideal chocolate cheesecake, or brownie, or even muffin (since, you know, I had high hopes of my imaginary beau staying for breakfast).
Those erstwhile romantic efforts came back to me in a flash last week after I’d been browsing through some old cookbooks. Previously, I’d had a little email exchange with Lisa (Show Me Vegan) about buying or keeping cookbooks we no longer really use, or those that contain only a smattering of recipes still relevant to our newly acquired dietary habits.
One such tome in my collection is called The Breakfast Book, by Diana Terry (and though I’ve owned this book since the 1980s, I never realized until today that it was published in Australia–which, I may have mentioned, is the land of my dreams, with its picturesque vistas, lush wilderness, stunning cities, enviable weather, and dashing, rakish Aussie gentelmen–all of whom just happen to speak with that sexy Australian accent).
Ah, yes, well. Pardon me: back to the book. Terry offers a sample menu for a brunch with a decidedly orange theme. The lucky boyfriend guest is treated to Champagne with Grand Marnier, Scrambled Eggs with Wholemeal Brioches, Fresh Fruit with Ricotta-Orange Dip, and Viennese-Style Coffee. Of course, none of the recipes would suit me in its present form, but that certainly didn’t stop this spunky gal.
After reading about the citrus-suffused eggs that were then gingerly ladled over a split brioche, its top placed rakishly askew, I asked myself: “Who said tofu scrambles should be savory, anyway? Why not sweet? And why must they always be one shade shy of neon yellow? And couldn’t my own, homemade, biscuits stand in for a brioche? And just what does “rakishly” actually mean, anyway?”
So I created this scramble, which is slightly sweet and not too yellow. And it’s very creamy. And it has orange zest and juice in it. And you ladle it gingerly over the bottom of a carob and raisin biscuit, the top of which is placed rakishly askew over it.
And may I just say–I ended up loving this dish. In fact, our affair bordered on the torrid. Who needs a boyfriend? I’d rather eat this*. But if you’re feeling generous, go ahead and share it with your wolf, or your flame, or your rake.
[PS. Giveaway, as promised, will be announced in my next post--stay tuned!]
*Okay, not really. If I had to choose between a sweet tofu scramble and my sweet HH, of course the HH would win out. But just barely.
This dish makes a lovely first course for a brunch, and looks fairly impressive, too. If your biscuits are not the rakish kind, then just serve them in a basket with jams and spreads alongside the scramble. Add a crisp, green salad, for a full meal.
1 small onion, chopped fine
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (90 ml.) natural smooth almond butter
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/4 tsp. (1 ml.) turmeric
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) nutritional yeast
1/8 tsp. fine sea salt
zest of one large orange, preferably organic
juice of one large orange (about 1/3 cup or 80 ml.)
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) pure maple syrup
1/4 cup (60 ml.) water
1/4 cup (60 ml.) fresh parsley, chopped fine
1 block (about 400 g.) firm or extra-firm tofu (the kind in its own plastic wrapper, not in a tub filled with water)
4-6 biscuits, warm (you can use my recipe, below, or another one)
In a large frypan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté over medium-low heat, stirring often, until onions soften and begin to caramelize, 10-15 minutes.
While the onions cook, combine the almond butter, tahini, turmeric, nutritional yeast, sea salt, zest, juice, maple syrup and water in a small bowl. Whisk to create a creamy sauce.
Rinse the tofu and crumble it into scrambled-egg-like bits, or dice into small cubes. (If you have time, you can press it first to remove some of the moisture, but this isn’t necessary).
Once the onions are cooked, pour the sauce into the pan and top with the tofu. Stir to coat all the tofu bits with sauce. Add the parsley and stir it into the mixture. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until heated through, 3-5 minutes.
Cut the biscuits in half and place the bottoms on single-serving plates. Spoon a generous serving of the tofu over the bottom and cover each with the tops, at–you guessed it–a rakish angle. Makes 4-6 servings.
Carob and Raisin Biscuits
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (90 ml.) plain or vanilla soy or almond milk
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing tops
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. (5 ml.) Sucanat or other unrefined evaporated cane juice
1/3 cup (35 g.) raisins
1/2 cup (70 g.) whole spelt flour
1/4 cup (35 g.) light spelt flour
1/4 cup (35 g.) carob powder
1 tsp. (5 ml.) cinnamon
2 tsp. (10 ml.) baking powder
1/4 tsp. (1 ml.) fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 425F (220C). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a small bowl, whisk together the soymilk, oil, vinegar and Sucanat. Add the raisins and stir to coat them with the liquid mixture; set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, carob powder, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and stir just until the mixture comes together in a soft dough.
Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup measuring cup, scoop the dough onto the cookie sheet 2 inches (5 cm.) apart. Wet your palms and flatten each biscuit slightly.
Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes, then remove the pan and brush the tops of the biscuits with more olive oil. Rotate the pan and bake another 5-10 minutes, until the biscuits are well browned and dry. Allow to cool about 5 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Makes 4-5 biscuits. May be frozen.
After the HH and I had been dating for about four months and he’d already passed the “willing to tolerate my multiple quirks and neuroses” test, I decided it would be acceptable for him to finally meet my family and old friends in Montreal. I cajoledcoercedbegged invited him to join me one weekend as I headed east. We arranged to stay at the CFO’s place, to visit with the rest of the family, to attend a dinner party at my friend Babe’s, and to spend the remainder of our time sight-seeing; the plans were all set.
And then, during the drive across the highway, the HH contracted some bizarre, sci-fi worthy flu virus and ended up spending the entire visit in bed–febrile, congested, inflamed and sullying tissue after tissue with unsavory bodily fluids. My relatives encountered a slightly dazed, highly medicated, Rudolph-nosed guy who didn’t make the greatest impression (he’s made up for it since).
Ever since that sniffling début, it’s become somewhat of a running gag in our house: whenever the HH and I travel to Montreal, one of us is inevitably sick (most recently, it was my turn; I suffered a wicked sinus headache for the first day, but recuperated by the second). The only time we both felt fine, turned out the CFO was the one with a terrible cold, which she unwittingly passed on as a parting gift to me. Two days after returning to Toronto, I was felled once again.
It may be a cliché to say that men are babies when it comes to having colds, that they whine and complain and moan, even as a woman suffering the same symptoms would simply drag herself from bed and get on with it. Well, not my HH. As in most things, he and I are total opposites when it comes to illness: if the HH gets sick, he retreats to bed, lies inert for about 48 hours, then emerges, like Ripley out of a stasis chamber, exactly as he was before. (The first time this occurred, I was truly alarmed: I was certain the guy had croaked on me, as he literally slept for two days without even getting up to eat or drink). I, on the other hand, am more likely stricken with a chronic, pervasive, low-grade, not-quite-debilitating-but-definitely-quite-annoying set of symptoms that lasts anywhere from four days to two months. I can function, but I’m miserable while I’m doing it.
One weekend a few weeks ago, Chaser had her first encounter with the HH’s unique form of healing. After he crawled into bed, I closed the door, as usual, so Dad could sleep it off. The Girls were entirely thrown off their regular routine. They moped about outside the bedroom, looking rather–well, hang-dog.
Finally, around 5:00 PM, the door swung open and there he was–and vertical! The Girls were ecstatic (“Does this mean we get to go to the trail now??”). Even as hope faded when the HH plunked himself in front of the TV, a dull patina of illness still coating his visage and a network of sheet-wrinkles, like tributaries on a map, spread across his face, those Girls still stuck by their Dad.
I headed to the kitchen to whip up something hearty for the HH’s first meal back in civilization. Before I could even grab a spatula, however, there were The Girls at my feet, staring patiently. Ah, yes, I’d forgotten that 5:00 PM is dog dinnertime. (“Right, Mum. Food trumps sick owner. Sorry Dad, but you’re on your own.”)
As to the humans’ dinner, I decided on tempeh, a food I love but don’t eat often enough. Pairing a vague notion of BBQ season with a half-consumed jar of apple butter, I had my starting point. I realize there’s a plethora of BBQ recipes out there around this time of year, from the archetypal Wingz at Don’t Eat Off the Sidewalk to these recent lovelies at Happy Herbivore and another fairly recent version at Vegan Dad. But I was determined to use that apple butter, so I just grabbed a few other items from the fridge and began to mix.
The results were, after all, very pleasing. The tempeh’s meaty texture works well with the slightly spicy, slightly sweet flavors of the sauce. If you like BBQ sauce with a kick, you’ll enjoy this dish. Unfortunately for the HH, he missed out on that particular gustatory pleasure, as his nose was still too congested for him to really appreciate the taste. Still, the high protein content of the tempeh worked well to help rebuild his stamina, and he was back to work the following day.
But I think we’ll hold off on any more trips to Montreal–for a little while, at least.
These are slightly sweet, slightly gooey with a spicy kick. I assume they’d be even better if actually cooked on a grill, but this baked version was equally tasty.
1 package (about 3/4 pound or 350 g.) tempeh, pre-steamed or ready to cook, cut into triangles
1/4 cup unsweetened apple butter
1/2 onion, grated very fine or pureed
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
4-6 drops Tabasco, or to taste
1 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
juice of 1/2 lime
Mix all ingredients except tempeh and blend well. You’ll have a a fairly thick sauce. Pour about half the sauce into the bottom of an 8 x 8 inch square greased pan. Place tempeh triangles on the sauce to fit. Spoon rest of sauce over top. Marinate at least one hour, turning tempeh over once.
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Bake the tempeh about 20 minutes, flip the triangles over and coat with as much sauce as you can (anything you don’t scoop up now will dry to the pan–beware!). You can leave a fairly thick layer of sauce on top of each triangle. Bake 20-30 more minutes, until the sauce has dried on top and begins to brown in places. Remove from pan while still hot to avoid sticking. Makes 2-3 servings. Store leftovers in a covered container in the fridge for up to 3 days.