28 June 2007

Inagural Post

I do have a product blog up for my book, The Alternative Vegan. However, I feel like since it's out there in the open, attached to the product itself, I can't be as chatty and silly as I want to be. If you've read the book, you know that I like to ramble on about nothing in particular, and sometimes I've got some ... unique observations about things going on in my life. I'll answer questions, if you post comments, but for the most part, this is about what's going on in my life, and other silly things of that nature. Feel free to read it, or ignore it.

As far as I know, sales are doing fine. I get people telling me about the different things that they're trying out, and I'm thrilled to bits when they try out something "exotic," if that makes sense. For example, at the last minute, I wanted to include a dish called Venn Pongal. It's a dish from the south of India, where my family is from, and it's filled with all the good things that I remember about growing up in the land of spices. It's very light in terms of fat an calories, but it's like magic. Pongal can settle an upset stomach, fill an empty belly, warm you up from the tips of your toes to the top of your head when it's dreary and rainy outside. Its smoky scent will fill the house as you cook it.

All that being said, it does take a fair bit of time for it to finish cooking, during which you're going crazy wanting it. Additionally, the instructions look complicated. Not that it's hard to make, mind you. It just looks that way, because I had to explain it just so. Anyways, I'm rambling. My publisher offered to test the recipe (because no recipe went into the book without being tested for ease of understanding the instructions, etc). He and his wife whipped up a batch, and fell in love.

Since then, they've made it a few other times. Now, my publisher is a talented and adventurous cook. He loves to tinker about with food so that it can reach the fiery heat he craves in there. (Suffice to say that chiles make regular appearances in the Torres house.) I expect him to be able to churn out pot after pot of pongal with no trouble, and no fear at all. I didn't expect people to try it after buying the book! I was surprised and so pleased that others could experience this ultimate of comfort foods for the first time, because I was introducing them to it. Something that I consider so common, but so good that I'll cheerfully eat it three times a day for a week or so. This, in all its beauty, was introduced to people, because they felt adventurous enough to give it a try.

That's so cool! What's even better is that they'll get to try the version that doesn't cost a fortune to make, and for which it is easy to find ingredients. I was telling my mother about the recipe in the book, and she asked me, "So, did you say to use moong daal?" "No," I responded, "I said to use split yellow peas." The two of us burst out laughing as she said, "I never do anything traditionally!" Of course we don't! That's how we adapt to the different places we've lived throughout my life. You can't be so rigid as to demand that everything be just so or not at all! You figure out how to make something work for you, wherever you are. Frankly, I'm not going to have someone spend three times the cost of split yellow peas on moong dal over some sniping about "authenticity" or "tradition". Sorry, but tradition is only so important that it serves us, not the other way around!

In other news, I figured out that I'm capable of getting into the door, and maximising my efficiency. Whenever you know you need to have dinner on the table in an hour or so after you get in, use this method, because it works for me without tiring me out! The second you walk in, drop whatever's in your hands onto the dining room or kitchen table, and walk into the kitchen. Quickly rinse out a pot, and start to fill it with water. While it fills, dash off to the washroom to give your hands and face a rinse with clean water and some soap. I find that if I'm using my regular facial soap to wash my face, my hands get cleaned at the same time, so I prefer to save a step if I can help it. Dry your hands off, and pat your face dry.

By now, you'll probably be feeling a lot more refreshed. The reason I added in the face and hand washing thing is twofold. For one thing, before you start preparing food, you HAVE to wash your hands. It's not pleasant to find unwelcome visitors in your food, and be laid up in bed with a stomach infection. Keep those hands as clean as you can. The other reason is that I live in Florida, and it's HOT. The first thing I wanted to do was wash my face as soon as I got in, but I knew that my kitchen sink can take a long time to fill a pot. I also fought the temptation to wash my face in the kitchen sink, because that would have involved the dirty water from my face flying around the kitchen. Ew.

Now that you're feeling more human, go to the kitchen again, and pour off any excess water from your pot. You're going to want 6 litres or so of water in the pot. Set the pot on the stove, slam on the lid, and crank it up to as high as it goes. The reason we are boiling water is because hot boiling water is perfect for cooking anything from rice to pasta to noodles to potatoes to vegetables. It's a pain, however, to wait for it to boil. Rather, why not let it do its own thing, while you go about your business? Once that's going, you can get to the rest of your meal.

Grab a clove of garlic, and smash it open, by pounding something heavy on it. Leave it whole; this is lazy, quick food, remember? Chop up an onion. Open up a can of black olives. Set a skillet onto your stove. Pour in any type of oil. See, when I came home that day, I didn't feel like digging out the olive oil. I just grabbed the canola bottle. Pour in enough oil to coat the bottom of the skillet. Quickly drain your can of olives, and pour them into the oil. Let the temperature come up, while you slice up your clove of garlic.

Within a couple of minutes, you should hear the olives in the skillet sizzling away like crazy. This is a good thing. You probably also smell an olive smell in the air. This is even better. Toss the olives around in your skillet. Sprinkle in the garlic and onions, and follow it up with a few good pinches of salt.

When you add salt this early in the game, you let the onions and garlic leak out their water more quickly, and the flavour intensifies. Find a can of tomatoes, or do what I did and find a jar of prepared tomato sauce. Nobody has to know! I have yet to see a jar of tomato sauce that had whole black olives (in this amount, anyway), and pieces of onions and garlic that you can actually see. When the onions turn light brown, pour in a few cups of the tomato sauce (or a 12 - 16 oz can of diced tomatoes, juice and all). Turn down the heat to low, and let the sauce simmer away until the pasta's done.

Now that your sauce is on the stove, your water is probably boiling. Splendid. Grab a 1 lb box of pasta, and pitch it into the pot of merrily boiling water. Generously salt the water. Throw in the juice of a lemon into the water (prevents pasta from sticking). Put the lid back onto the pot, ONLY for as long as it takes to get the water back up to a full rolling boil. Remove the lid, and set it aside. Boil the pasta until it's done.

Pour yourself a glass of wine or juice or water or whatever it is you like to drink at the end of your day, and sit down for at least five minutes, while the pasta boils. Don't leave the kitchen; you don't want to leave things on the stove unattended. You do, however, need the break for yourself at this point, because your legs are probably reminding you about the sweet allure of a hot bath. With bubbles!

When you've had your five minutes of relaxation, put a colander into the sink. Start checking on the pasta to see if it's cooked. Keep checking it every minute or two, until it's just done. When the pasta is done, pour it out to drain into the colander. Turn off the stove, and put the empty pot back onto the still hot stove. Pour the sauce into the bottom of the pot. Pour some of the cooked pasta into the sauce pan, and swirl it around to catch any leftover bits of sauce still in the pan. Dump all the pasta (including the one from the pan) over the sauce in the pot, and stir it all around to combine it.

Everything will be done to a turn, and you only need dump together a salad (which takes no time flat) and throw out some crusty bread and olive oil. That was more or less how my Monday night went. Ah, life is so simple when we've got so much.