26 September 2007

"But we are out of the soy cheese."

There's this restaurant that's a goodly thirty minutes away from my house. They serve vegan pizzas, but there's nothing else in there that really interests me. Meanwhile, their prices aren't exactly affordable, so going there is a special treat that I'd do only on special occasions and the like. If I'm making a trek to a place that's so far out of the way, they'd damn well better deliver.

So what do you know? We show up on Monday night, after flying in from New York (where vegan food surrounded us from sea to shining sea), and they tell us that they're out of the soy cheese for the vegan pizzas, and would we prefer the buffalo mozzarella. "That's OK, we'll find some other place."

Let me make this very clear: if you advertise something, have it in stock. If you find that you seem to be powering through the stuff, and people are purchasing it, get more. Don't make me travel all the way out there, only to be told you don't have any more. There aren't that many vegans in this region anyway. I'd never had this stuff before, and I'm probably never going to have it in the future, because I'm not about to go to a place that doesn't have its stuff together. Good job, you lost another customer. Go back to feeding the cow-sucking hippies.

New York Recap

New York City, was, of course, fabulous. We cooked, we ate, and we got to relax with friends for quite a while. Meanwhile, the weather was scrumptious, and the people were friendly as always. I'm definitely looking forward to moving there eventually.

I've started watching that new TV show, Ugly Betty. OK, it's not exactly new; it's been out for a year, but I am sometimes behind the times when it comes to popular culture stuff. It's an interesting show, and quite twisted at times. The stories are varying, and the characters are likeable (if so the character is meant to be liked) and loathable (as required, of course). The clothing is a LOT of fun to look at, because you'll see high Couture outfits being combined in interesting ways, in combinations that work (or really don't work, as in Betty's outfits). You'll see a $5,000 patterned skirt looking decidedly bargain basement, because Betty doesn't know how to pair clothing very well, and tends to wear clashing colours. It's hideously fun!

22 September 2007

Friday on the way in

I fortunately managed to find a ride to the airport, and it wasn't that difficult at all, once I got there. It was more or less an issue of getting through security, and getting a bit of tranquilising stuff into me. Unfortunately, I was too keyed up all day to eat much of anything, so I'd been downing a few cups of coffee instead, and not quite enough of anything else. Of course, what ended up happening then was that my nerves were shot to heck, and I was a twitch (hah!) jittery.

Fortunately, I asked Steve to snag some nuts ahead of time, and we managed to snack a bit before heading onto the aeroplane. The flight took off on time, and is hopefully going to land a bit early. I'm definitely looking forward to getting off the plane, as flying makes me ridiculously nervous.

God bless Jet Blue airlines. They have very generous leg room, as well as individual television sets in the backs of the seats in front of you. Quite fun. Of all the trips that I've taken to New York, I'd have to say that tonight's flight was the absolute best of them. It took off and arrived exactly on time, and the flight crew was friendly and attentive.

In spite of the multiple times that I've gotten lost in the past trying to find her house, I managed to make it to my friend J's house without even calling her once for clarification on directions. I think that having the cheat sheet in front of me (thank you, Google maps) and poking at her guy earlier in the day helped matters tremendously.

Of course, as soon as we got in, Steve was hungry, and I expected as much. We'd both had a long day in getting to the airport (what with the rain, and traffic delays and such), and I was in the mood to throw together something quick. My friend had bought some wonderful rustic bread with a chewy texture, and thick hearty crust. I threw together a quick bruschetta. Here's what I did.

First, I sliced up the bread into thick~ish slices. Then, I combined:
- 2 medium sized tomatoes, finely diced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
- 1 TB minced fresh basil
- 1 TB minced fresh rosemary
- Splash of balsamic vinegar
- Splash of olive oil
- 8 oz tinned red beans, drained well

I tossed all the ingredients together in a bowl, and ground up a bit of sea salt and black pepper to round things out. Once the bread got toasty and crusty, I removed it from the oven, and let everyone pile on the toppings to her or his own liking. They enjoyed tremendously, because the bread was fresh, and the topping was that perfect blend of tart, sweet, salty, and peppery. The herbs provided a wonderful counterpoint to the strength of the garlic, and the olive oil took the edge off of everything. Quite a success, if I do say so myself.

More to come as the weekend progresses.

19 September 2007

Dino Wallpapers

A friend of mine made wallpapers of me out of the header image when I let him play around with it:

My mom and I chatted ...

And she's going to Seattle today to visit my second brother there. She's been looking forward to the trip, although she is very nervous that things won't go right either in terms of the food situation, or a million other things that could go wrong. We caught up on all sorts of little things, and my phone promptly died. Of course it only died after we'd wrapped everything up, but there you are.

Seattle has a very active Food Not Bombs community, where they distribute food three times a week (according to mom), and even have a "Free Market", where people can come and take produce away for free. It's a pretty cool concept, I'd say, to have food that would have been wasted being given out to all takers. Meanwhile, the store gets a fat tax write-off for the donation, so everyone wins in the end. :)

New York is looming large, and I'm nervous because I still haven't bothered to pack. Of course I haven't packed yet; doing so would mean that I'm organised and have my stuff together. Such is not the case, of course. We'll see where it goes, hmm?

Last night, when I got home, I started to unwind. I had a quick snack, I lay down for a bit, and had a fast catnap. Finally, around 6:00 (an hour before Steve gets home), I had a sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach. I ran out of my room, and checked the fridge.

It was empty.

So there I was, trying to figure out what to make. The first thing I did, which I always do in moments of food crises, is make a pot of rice immediately. The rice cooker is a wonderful tool in taking care of that little step without my worrying about it. I have one of those basic models with a removable pot, a lid, and an on/off button. It keeps the rice warm, but doesn't DING when it's done. Like I said, it's a very basic model, but it does the job every time. That barely took me a minute or two to throw down. Then, I foraged around for vegetables. And realised that we didn't bother buying any, because we'd be leaving over the weekend.


Fortunately for me, there are a couple of staples I always have on hand: tomatoes (either tinned or fresh, depending), onions, and garlic. That holy trinity is never far from anywhere I am, because it forms the baseline of so many dishes. Tonight, it would have to be a dish! Fortunately, I have the recipe for Tomato Rice memorised from making it so many times (I hope you're getting the point that I'm not always together when it comes to planning things out on time), and started in on chopping the vegetables, starting with the onions. Once the spices were popped, in went the onions. Once they had a couple of minutes to cook (I was on a time crunch here), I threw in the tomatoes, and let them simmer for a while. By the time they were mostly done, Steve walked in earlier than I'd expected. I sent him out on a really quick errand while I finished things off. By the time he got back (it took him only five minutes), the food was ready, and I could relax again.

Dinner was served.

17 September 2007

Updates and the like

As I'd hoped, the VeganFAQ project is coming along swimmingly. I've got quite a few people on board, who are happy to share their wisdom, their humour, and their venting, all at the same time. It's very interesting to read people's take on various aspects of vegan life. If you're up to join in, leave a comment on here with your email address (so that it gets emailed to me), and delete the comment after doing so (so that nobody else gets it!) and I'll see what I can do.

Hopefully, on Wednesday, I'll have another segment on the Vegan Freaks podcast. If any of you have questions for me to cover, please leave a comment here, and I'll try to include them (as long as I haven't covered the information before). Barring that, it should be an interesting podcast and Cooking With Dino segment.

Steve and I leave for New York on Friday night, and will be back Monday afternoon. I probably will not get a chance to update here too much until I get home, but I'll try to remember to take pictures of our visit. We're staying with a friend, which means that I'll be cooking, and sharing photos, of course. After having been as many times as I have, I have a pretty good idea of what I'm looking to check out. I'll let you all know how it goes, of course.

My new iPod 160 GB came in today, and I couldn't be happier to have it. I finally have a large hard disk drive for backups. It's been such a pain working off the tiny 30 GB HDD on my little iBook G4, and this will be quite nice to have. Since it doesn't require an external power source, like my backup drive does, life will be far simpler this way.

I've been sitting on a minor case of writer's block again, so that's why this post utterly sucks.

16 September 2007

New Project

I'm one of those people that likes to be involved in new projects all the time. I just enjoy watching my ideas unfold into something that's enjoyable for me and my friends. Here’s my latest one. The idea behind it is to allow vegans from different parts  of the world, all kinds of walks of life, and different perspectives to share how they respond to various questions that vegans get asked on a daily basis. I do this because so many FAQs are sterilised, washed out and so clinical. I enjoy my friends immensely, and I want to hear how they handle things, not how others handle them. Rather than having a large, faceless organisation tell me how to think, I'd rather have my friends tell me how they wanted to handle it, or how they did. When we can make our responses have a face, and a name, and a voice, we are no longer just “those damn vegans,” but rather become people, with lives, stories and names. 

12 September 2007


On my entry where I discussed the basics of bringing together a quick and easy dish, I posted some pictures of the food while it was cooking. JonBen asked about garlic in particular.

Why was the garlic whole?
First and foremost, it's important to understand the different levels of flavour that garlic can give. When it's whole, or just loosely crushed (but still mostly whole), you're going to get a very gentle gradation of garlic that permeates the dish, but never stands out in the dish. What I want when I leave the cloves whole is a dish that is OK for people who don’t care for garlic per se, but can tolerate it in their food, as long as it is not the main flavour component. Who hates garlic? Well, I know one of Steve’s aunts refuses to touch the stuff, but doesn't mind it if she can't taste it. I made a spinach dish for Steve and the rest of the people who had come over, but I did not want to exclude anyone from at least trying all the dishes. I left the garlic cloves whole, but put in a lot of garlic! This way, when the aunt tasted some, I served her a portion that didn't have the cloves of garlic. For everyone else, who loves the stuff, they still had whole roasted cloves of garlic in the dish now that they could eat and enjoy.

That's the other thing to note about whole garlic: the flavour of the garlic clove itself is mild, as long as you slow cook it (which is pretty much the only application where I would use whole garlic), or flash fry it in oil (which is how I get the recipes started in any case, where you start with the oil, move on to the spices, then the aromatics—garlic is an aromatic) and then quick cook whatever vegetables you want to eat that night. It is definitely worth a try if you like garlic. I encourage you to give the whole cloves a try. Just do not be afraid, and stop at one clove. Go nuts, and throw in lots and lots of cloves. If the dish is too strongly garlicky for you, you can always remove the whole cloves, and everything gets mild again.

When should it be added?
This will depend solely on what it is you're making. Let’s say that you are in the process of making a barely wilted spinach dish, and you want a very strong kick in the back side of garlic. Mince up the garlic as finely as you can, and add it in with the spinach. Suppose you get a call from your best friend that her new date is coming with her, and she would like to be able to have a little kissing after the dinner is over. No worries! Go back to the kitchen, and put the garlicky spinach in the fridge for yourself for later, when nobody else is around, and there to complain about your foul breath. Then, go ahead and peel up two or three cloves of garlic. In the skillet, start off with your spices.

Once they're popped, throw the whole cloves of garlic into the skillet. Quickly sauté it around in there until they're a toasty brown on the outside. Once that's done, throw in your spinach, and wilt it down. Throw in a pinch of nutmeg (because as we all remember from the book, a pinch of nutmeg makes spinach taste divine), and boil up some pasta really quickly (I would use farfalle). When your friends arrive, toss the pasta with the spinach, and set out some good crusty bread and a bottle of wine. When you serve your friends, quietly scooch the cloves of garlic over to the side, and serve them away from it. Then, when you serve yourself, throw it down onto your own plate, and have a ball! Everyone can walk away happy.

If the dish is going to be a dressing, add it in before you add in the oil or vinegar or whichever liquid you use to make your salad dressing. When you grind a dressing in a blender, the garlic pieces tend to stick to the sides. The liquids that you pour down the sides will help wash the garlic down towards the blades where they can get properly chopped up. If you are making a hummus, I have specific instructions on how to handle the garlic in the book, but the general rule is that you want to add it early on to give it a chance to grind down properly.

Thanks for the great question, John. I will be sure to look you all up if Steve and I are ever in Vancouver!

10 September 2007

Brussels Sprouts

Steve bought Brussels sprouts, which I adore. Like any vegetable from that family (cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.), the Caraway seed is an excellent, and tasty addition, as it counteracts that sweaty socks smell that sometimes comes out when you're steaming or cooking these vegetables. Mind you, I'd never just steam a vegetable and call it a night! I toast spices (“popping” spices) in oil, then add the vegetables, let them get brown and toasty, then add any liquids, as needed. This is exactly what I had planned. Because I was feeling lazy at that moment, I had Steve remove the stem ends, and cut each sprout into fourths (lengthwise). What this does is gives you more surface area for each sprout to come in direct contact with heat, and more places for it to get toasty brown and lovely.

There I was, raring to go. The sprouts were cut up, I had a tomato roughly chopped, and my skillet was slowly coming up to the full, raring to go heat that I like it to have when I pop spices. And then it struck me: no caraway seeds in the pantry! Ordinarily, I would have gotten annoyed, and put the brakes on the dish right then and there, but I figured that I can just as easily experiment and improvise like I keep telling others to do, of course! So there I was, looking at my mother's masala dabba, trying to figure out what exactly to use. Duh! Cumin seeds with a hint of fennel, and lots of sesame seeds to offset the edge of the fennel seeds! I couldn't believe that I’d been so rigid in making Brussels sprouts! Just because I've always made it one way does not mean that I have to follow that same exact method for the rest of my life!

There's actually a story behind my Brussels sprouts recipe. My friend Dana has a five year old daughter, who is an adventurous eater, and an absolute ball of energy. I swear, that child stacks on a few centimetres every time I see her! I'm not too fond of children as a general rule, but little Noodle (our nickname for Dana’s daughter) is actually an adult who is still a bit on the short side. She can talk your ear off, and have you rolling with laughter for hours (that she'll cheerfully join in, of course), and adores having her uncle Dino and uncle Steve over to play (and cook, of course!). I definitely chatter on about Dana and Noodle—and how I would go over to their house to cook—in the book.

So there I was, in the car with Dana, on the way to her house for the umpteenth time. We were chatting about this and that, and nothing at all, as you do. Whenever the two of us get together, that first hour or so is filled with mandatory gossip, of course. She was telling me how Noodle is getting to that age where her school mates are starting to express their disdain for all things vegetable. Now Noodle, having grown up in Dana’s house, has been open to eating everything from Ethiopian food, to Burmese, to Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Mexican, and anything else that grows from the ground. She's gone to restaurants and ordered a stir-fry of broccoli, and shocked the waiter when she finished off the entire bowl on her own.

Unfortunately though, she had also started picking up the other little children’s bad habits of disliking things they'd never tried (or, in many cases, never tried cooked properly). To combat this, Dana put forth a challenge by having a large container of Brussels sprouts waiting for me when I got to her house. She told me what she was facing (giving something to a four year old who was being brainwashed by the idiot television and school to think that vegetables are evil), and that she'd never much cared for them herself. This was, to say the least, cause for alarm on my part, because I am adamant that people learn to enjoy vegetables and fruits before moving on to other more complex things.

Out came the caraway seeds, the oil, the other spices (yes, the recipe is in the book, of course!), and the skillet. I started to make the dish completely dry, but noticed that it was too hot for the sprouts and the spices, which is why I splashed in a bit of white wine, covered the lid, and let it simmer for a bit to steam through. I really do not care for undercooked Brussels sprouts. Finally, I finished it off with a hint of nutmeg, and a pinch of cinnamon, to round out the flavours, and a bit of salt to finish it off. The verdict was, of course, unanimously positive. We all loved it, and Dana requests that I make it whenever I come over, which I happily oblige (since cruciferous vegetables are good for you, of course!) in the guise of doing it for her (although my hands go into eating the final dish as well).

Whoo! That was a diversion if ever I saw one! Back on track, though. In the past, when I'd made Brussels sprouts, it was decadent, in that I never added anything extra to it. This time, because I was turning the recipe over on its head in any case, I decided to cut up a tomato, and add it to the roasting sprouts. I was not looking to get the tomatoes broken down, as I do in a traditional soup or stew recipe, but rather to have more bulk in the dish. A splash of water, and a quick steam later, the sprouts were done to a turn.

09 September 2007

Lentil Soup.

I hope you remember the recipe I posted a few days back about how to make that soup base, involving the spices, and the tomatoes, and the onions, and all that jazz? Here is the post, in case you don't have it bookmarked yet. This morning, I did a quick check of the fridge, and realised that we had absolutely no daal or other bean type dishes of any sort at all! In a semi panic, I started foraging around in my pantry to see what I could come up with. I found a package of lentils that looked no worse for the wear, so I immediately decided on lentil soup. The lucky thing is that I still had a pot with the fat from deep frying stuff last night, so I decided to use that for the oil for the dish. After that, in went the spices, the onions, garlic, curry leaves, tomatoes, and all the other good lovely things in their correct order. After the tomatoes were cooked down, I added in the lentils (roughly half a kilo) and around two or three litres of water. I let the water come up to a full rolling boil, then dropped down

You may think that using tomatoes in a lentils dish is risky, because traditionally, acid added in while the beans are cooking will cause them to come out like bullets. Fortunately for us, lentil as split peas are the exception to this very sensible rule. This is why I didn't even bother to cook the lentils ahead of time. Instead, I just added them as is into the pot, and let them bubble away quite nicely. 

This is also why I would suggest to a new or unsure cook to start their tour of beans with lentils. They're not only lovely in texture and taste, but they're highly forgiving of inexperience, and will generally turn out well after about an hour or so of gentle cooking on the stove. This dish would have been divine if I'd thrown in a couple of potatoes, some kale, carrots, butternut squash, or whatever other vegetable I had lying about. That's how wonderfully forgiving lentils are. They'll even graciously accept the humble pumpkin or sweet potato into their midst without a complaint (just be sure to roast the pumpkin or sweet potato ahead of time, so that they have enough time  to get cooked all the way through).

This dish would also have been deliciously delectable with lots of thyme, rosemary, and basil, which would offset the smoky cumin and would have been a perfect counterpoint to the tomato. Additionally, lots of fresh cilantro, or parsley would have done equally well heaped on top just before serving. I could have used up any leftover steamed vegetables, added in at the last ten minutes or so of cooking, so that I could have a more complete meal in the bowl.

You can serve this dish with bread, or rice, or pasta, or whatever else your imagination can dream up!

08 September 2007


Uppuma is so deliciously lovely. I'm adoring the flavour and the texture. To make this batch, I deviated a little from the straight recipe in the book. What happened is that I was using a combination of scallions and Spanish onions. I wanted to give them a fair bit of time to cook down and turn brown, but I did not want to spend a lot of time making my dish. While I roasted the sooji (farina, cream of wheat—they're all the same thing—or whatever you call the stuff), I allowed the onions and scallions (and mustard seeds, turmeric, salt, chilies, etc.) to brown in a separate pot.

I wanted them to get really well browned, so I let them do their thing over medium low heat. This allows the sugars to slowly come to the surface, and darken gently, rather than on high heat, where the sugars come to the surface quickly, and have a high chance of burning and stinking up your kitchen. I did roast the sooji over a high flame, but that is mainly because I have done it for a long time, and know what to watch for. When you do it at home, you might want to start off at a lower temperature, and maintain the even browning of the grains. Of course, the huge pain in the behind for making uppuma is that you have to stir so darned much! That being said, it is an extremely inexpensive and filling (and very delicious) dish, so it's not like I was complaining about a little stirring. After about fifteen minutes or so of stirring, the sooji transformed colour from a pale blond colour to a much deeper, richer tan colour.

See? Pretty, right? Notice how the colour isn't uniform, but rather graduated, from dark brown, to light tan. This is just perfect for the dish. The reason that we roast the sooji is to cook out the raw cereal taste from it, and to give it a depth of flavour. Once I got it to the colour that I was looking for, I poured it into a waiting stainless steel jug. The reason I do this is because the final step is to pour the sooji into boiling water. If you put it into a bowl, you're going to have to be careful not to spill anything, and you've got the weight of the bowl to contend with. With a jug, you've got a steady stream, no spillage, and very little weight (because mine is stainless steel, as yours ought to be).

In this incarnation, I was looking to inject at least a little bit of healthy stuff. I added in about half a kilo of spinach leaves (roughly chopped) after the onions got fully brown, and allowed the spinach to wilt completely, and to let out a fair bit of its water. Finally, when the vegetables were cooked, I added the water, waited for the boil, stirred in the sooji, and served it! 

07 September 2007

Four Meetings and a Boner Pill

To the folk sending me those adverts in my email for “v1@gr@,” or whatever it is you're trying to disguise your grotesque wares as to bypass my spam filtering, please cease right now. It's getting annoying, and you're not convincing me of the pill’s efficacy when you have to flood my Inbox with requests to buy the garbage. Sorry, but I'm frankly not interested. I also don’t intend to purchase medications through sources that I can’t really verify. How do I know you're sending me the real deal, and not some sugar pills?

In other news, after what felt like the millionth endless meeting today, I'm free to roam the hallways of the building where I work and snipe computer issues out of the way as they come at me. So far, so goo, but I have yet to have a few moments to breathe, which is why I'm hammering this out in my lunch hour. Complaining gives me a chance to get it out of my system, and distance myself from it sufficiently that I can pretend like it’s happening to someone else. That being said, now that I’ve had a few moments to breathe, it seems far less bad than it was previously. Nothing like a good dose of denial to make one feel better instantly, is there?

In other other news, this will be the first weekend in a long time that neither Steve nor I have anything in particular planned. I'm looking forward to lounging around, and pretending like we’re actually being productive, when in reality, we will be nothing of the sort! I will most likely get some cooking done for the upcoming week, so that I can have meals at the ready. Maybe I can whip up a batch of uppuma? That sounds rather nice right now, as the polenta seems to have gone off rather well with Steve (although I'm not a huge fan myself), and uppuma is more of a complete meal all by itself, if I add in some vegetables. Yes, of course, the recipe is in the book.

Yeah, uppuma would be perfect, especially since it looks like it is going to be a rainy weekend. I checked the forecasts, and there are Dark and Fell predictions of doom as far as rain is concerned, and a hot steamy bowl of creamy uppuma would totally hit the spot, especially with some spinach, and lots of fresh curry leaves. I certainly hope there's some rava at home! If not, I'll be mildly disappointed, and use farina instead. It'll be just fine either way.

Much better. Now that I have things to look forward to, my mood has immediately lifted, and I feel better. :)

05 September 2007

Booo, writer's block

You know how I'm generally fairly chatty, and ready to ramble on about anything and everything and nothing at all? Today, I got hit with a pretty big case of writer's block, and it's making me crazy. It hasn't happened in years, which is why it's particularly annoying. These few sentences alone are taking far longer than they should have in the past.

I've tried the hints to jog your brain into working for you, and none of them seem to be working.

I guess this is what I get for spending a three day weekend doing positively nothing at all in particular. I watched TV, ate junky fried food, and did as little as humanly possible. It was wonderful, because after all the weeks of doing ... stuff, it's nice to cut loose and let yourself be brain dead for a spell. Unfortunately for me, this also means that it's going to take some time to recover from the vegging out state that I've been so blissfully rolling around in.

What's even worse is the utter lack of ability to think of all things cooking, which I love above all else. Someone mentioned that she'd like to jazz up her hummus, and all I could lamely come up with was the addition of olives, sun dried tomatoes and pine nuts. That's so pedestrian that anyone could have thought that up! I know not to panic, and that as soon as my brain wakes back up, we'll be back to business as usual, but this is a decidedly disconcerting feeling.

03 September 2007

Empty fridge ... again!

It's one of those times that we're all very familiar with—empty fridge syndrome. There is literally no vegetable sitting in there. I've got onions and tomatoes (because I always have onions and tomatoes) and all of three potatoes which I'm loathe to use, because they cost do darned much. I'm highly annoyed that there's nothing, because Steve gets in soon. Furthermore, I don't fancy serving my boy a mess of fried stuff. Not going to happen.

While I was swearing under my breath, I took a quick inventory of the pantry to see what I could rustle up. No tinned beans, no tinned veg, no nothing. I've got a large box of polenta in the fridge, but man cannot live on polenta alone. I continued grumbling under my breath, as I took an inventory of the shelves where we keep the dried beans. There you are! A pound of chickpeas, and a pound of mung beans. Hrm. There's no way I'm eating mung beans that are just soaked. They have to be sprouted to bring out the best taste. Chickpeas also need soaking.

I set both batches of beans to soak on Sunday night, and got them to start boiling on Monday. By Tuesday, we'll have daal. All I did was take that tomato-onion-curry leaf base, and add the cooked chickpeas to it. Gold.