22 September 2015

Pie Crust

Apologies for the cruddy camera phone pictures.

There were a bunch of apples that needed to get used up. There's a bunch of recipes out there for apple pie filling (heck, you can even buy the stuff in a tin at the store if you're so inclined), but the vegan pie crusts out there make it seem like this long, boring, painful process. It's really not that hard, if you do a little preparation work beforehand. If you want a whole lot of crust, use the ratios in cups. For example, you can use 3 cups flour, 1 cup coconut oil, 1/4 cup water, and 1/2 cup sugar. Or, just use a small tea cup, and measure that way. Or, use tablespoons, and make the most tiny little crust ever. The ratio will work when you scale up or down.

It can be baked at 350F.

3 parts self rising flour
1 part coconut oil, in liquid form. Do NOT substitute with vegetable oil.
1/4 part water or vodka, reserved
1/2 part sugar, if sweet crust is desired
Pinch of salt

Freeze the flour overnight. You heard me right. Measure out your flour, and throw it into a bowl and freeze the whole mess.

The next day, add the sugar (if using) and salt. Mix well. Add the coconut oil. Mix through the flour well with your hands. Because the flour is frozen, it will immediately solidify the coconut oil. This is exactly what you want. Why? Because a good pie crust uses solid fat. By freezing the flour, which is the lion's share of the recipe, you ensure that the coconut oil will form into solid little lumps.

As you combine the oil with the flour, you want to break up the big clumps into smaller clumps with your fingers. Don't worry about overworking the flour. This recipe is forgiving. You want the flour and oil mixture to look like coarse sand. Once you have that consistency, add the vodka 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix to combine. You're looking for the whole thing to make a soft dough. Again, don't worry about overworking it. This is going to rest, and the recipe is /very/ forgiving.

Once you have a soft dough, lay down a sheet of parchment paper, wax paper, or plastic wrap onto your counter. Pinch off enough dough (roughly the size of a grapefruit) to make 1 crust. Lay another piece of parchment, wax paper, or plastic wrap on top. Roll it out to your desired thickness with a rolling pin. If you don't have any of those, just chuck the thing into a clean shopping bag, and roll it between those. I won't tell anyone.

Why do we roll it out in between things? Because you don't want to mess with the ratios. Add extra flour (such as by dusting your counter with flour, and rolling the crust on there), and you might end up with a dry, crumbly crust. Also, when you're done rolling it out, it becomes easy to transport it to the pie pan.

Roll out your top crust, and put it in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Then, roll out your bottom crust, line your pie pan with it, and freeze it for 20 minutes. While the crusts are chilling, make your pie filling of choice. Let it cool to room temperature. DO NOT SKIP THE COOLING OF THE FILLING STEP. Remove the bottom crust from the freezer, and dump the filling inside. Lay the top crust atop the pie, and cut some holes into it with a knife. This prevents the filling from bursting out of the pie. Then throw the whole works into the freezer for another 20 minutes.

The second chilling ensures that all the coconut oil is solid, and that water is ice cold. This will mean that your pie will take longer to bake (as it's really cold), but that's OK. You'll have perfect, flaky, tender crust. My apple pie took a little longer than 1 hour and 15 minutes. However, when I pulled it all out, the pie crust was super soft, tender, flaky, and perfectly cooked on the top and bottom.

I especially like this recipe, because most of the work is short steps, which are followed by long intervals. I can get everything for the crust ready a few days ahead of time, and just put them in the fridge if I want (because a couple of days in the fridge will do the same thing as an hour in the freezer). Heck, I can even make the filling, and put it in the fridge. Then, the day that I need my pie, I'll have it piping hot out of the oven that same day, and can let it cool before anyone's ready to eat it.

23 May 2015

How to Breakfast

Also known as, "The next time someone says that cooking simple things is always so easy, please smack them for me."

So husband and I wanted sandwiches. Easy enough. He'd just gone shopping yesterday (keep the date in mind, eh?) and picked up tomatoes, cilantro, and onions. Lovely. I figured we can nip into the kitchen, maybe fry up a spot of tofu, slice up the tomatoes, onions, and cilantro, and throw on a squeeze of lemon or something to perk it up a bit.

Just after I finish reading this bit in a book I'm in the middle of. Also, we're both tired, and didn't want to get up. A half hour later, we both mustered up the motivation to move. Out came the tomatoes, out came the onion, out came the tofus, and so on. Once the veg were sliced up all nice and thin, I got the pan ready for frying the tofu. Husband reminded me of the cilantro. "Yeah, good idea. Can you grab some for me, please?" He did. And there was half the bag of the stuff completely wilted looking.

"Steve, why's this cilantro wilted?"

"What the heck. I just bought it yesterday!"

"Just wash it up. We'll make dhania chatni."

He does so. And the stove smokes all over the place. Apparently, a thing dropped onto the pan underneath the coils (yes, we live with electric stove right now) and started smoking. On went the exhaust fan. It doesn't exhaust much, except for the cook, because it sounds loud and annoying, while not really sucking up all that much air. Sigh. Steve went to go get the blender, and the other stuff for the cilantro chatni.

I was babysitting the tofu, so it doesn't burn.

It didn't burn. But the smoke alarm had to say its piece anyhow. At 8:00 in the morning. While the rest of the floor is sleeping. I grabbed a long handled broom, and shut it off (the smoke alarm, not the stove). By the time I got back to the stove, the tofu had finished the cycle where it was releasing from the pan easily, and hooked back around to sticking. I scraped it off, and managed to flip it in one piece. Good gods, I hate low fat cooking so much. If I'd had enough foresight to dump in a 1/4 inch of oil, this wouldn't be an issue.

Steve got back with the stuff to make the chatni. He made it. It was amazing tasting. The tofu was finally done. All this took the better part of 40 minutes. FORTY MINUTES. It really shouldn't take this long to run into the kitchen, fry a couple of pieces of tofu, and slap it between two slices of bread with some veg.

It's now going on ten in the morning, and nothing's really gotten done, except a giant pile of dishes, the making of the cilantro chatni for later.

Those were some mighty fine sandwiches though.

14 March 2015

Throwing a large event.

So you’re getting married. What now?

First and foremost, schedule your panic time. It’s not realistic to say not to panic, because that’s silly. It’s more workable to know that the panic is going to come, and give yourself the space for that to happen. But, like I said, schedule the amount of time you’re going to allow yourself to wallow in those feelings.

Even if things are busy, and you have a million things on your plate, tell yourself, “I’m going to allow myself to whine, complain, cry, scream, and do whatever else it is to have the release of the emotions. These emotions are perfectly natural, and there’s nothing wrong with me for feeling out of control. I’m not crazy, and I’m not a horrible person for wanting things to go right.”

Once you’ve let yourself have those feelings, they’ll give way to a sense of relief for having been given the chance to just come out. However, if you don’t set yourself a time limit, you can very well start heading into self pity party, or endless negative feedback loops. My friend Dr. Melissa (you can find her on the twitter: https://twitter.com/melissalaughing) shared a story where she started feeling sad at a graduation ceremony. She looked at her watch, and gave herself 60 seconds to just feel those things, and let them happen. At the end of the sixty second mourning, she felt able to face the graduation, and truly celebrate the rite of passage that the students were participating in.

Find someone that you trust to be point person for the day of itself. You may not want someone to plan out the specific details of the wedding itself, but you will want someone who can answer the phone, and deal with coordinating the whole mess on the day of. Caterers will get lost, and be running late. The wedding hall will have issues with setting up the tables correctly. Someone drank all the wine, and one of the wait staff needs to make a run down to the store and grab a bit more. Whatever the issues are, let you and your (soon to be) spouse off the hook. Frankly, if you’re wearing a wedding dress, you likely don’t have pockets anyway.

Answering the phone to give directions to wayward folk isn’t really a thing you want to deal with. Having that point person be there to take those calls, and coordinate things is a huge help. Most of the successful wedding parties I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a LOT of them) are the ones where the point person is NOT the mother of the bride or groom, or a best friend or sibling. Why? Because those people will also be participating. It’ll be someone who’s able to nip out for a few minutes to get things done, while not pissing off the photographer, who’ll insist on photos with all the people, or make the marrying person feel abandoned. I’ve been best man (and man of honour) for a fair few weddings by now, and it’s hard for me to be out of sight at the critical moments. It’s when I wasn’t in the wedding party itself that I was able to be a good point person.

For food, variety IS quantity. The thing is that you’re not going to please everyone. That’s fine. What is going to happen, however, is that you’ll be given the ability to make a variety of choices when you’re planning on what to get. If I’m about to throw an event, and the things on a menu cost all different prices, I’m going to hedge my bets and order smaller quantities of ALL the things.
Why? Because then there will be an automatic desire to try different things, and nobody tries to fill up on any one thing. The most successful parties (wedding or otherwise) were the ones where they set up multiple tables with all different things on them. 

For example, there would be a table for dips and things to eat with the dips. Hummus, white bean dip, black olive tapenade, various spreads, tiny pickles (gherkins? Cornichon?), olives, cut vegetables, various crackers, breads, pita, spicy and sweet sauces, and so on. Then there’d be a table for salad and salad accessories. Various things of cut up vegetables, various proteins, beans, a few dressings, and a selection of greens. There’s another table for soups, like bean soup, vegetable soup, etc. There’s a table for grains, one for grilled or roasted veg, one for various proteins. But here’s the thing. You don’t need to order huge amounts of anything, because not everyone is going to eat everything.

There’s only so many things one can fill up on, and having a bunch of choices guarantees that if someone has dietary restrictions, allergies, or just plain doesn’t like certain things, you’re making it possible for them to find more things to eat. Even those who eat everything will still have their likes and dislikes. Also, by setting up all the food on various stations, you get the crowd control easier to manage. Not everyone will want to attack the same things at the same time. Some people will want to nibble for a bit before eating properly. Some prefer to only eat the salad. Whatever the case, spreading out where the various offerings are kept will keep people moving through the room, and mingling with people they’d normally not mingle with.

Figure on a total of 1 lb of food per person, from start to finish. Figure on 5 lbs of lettuce greens being enough for 25 people. Figure on about 1 lb of protein being enough for 4, as long as you have at least ¾ of a lb of other things to fill it out. Some people will want less of the protein, and others will want more. Figure on 1 baguette for 3 people. For drinks, get 1 litre of beverage per person, whether that be juice, sparkling water, or soda.

Try to explain the significance of things if they’re important to you. I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve been to, where there were all these lovely little touches, but nobody who attended knew how special those touches were, because the couple didn’t mention it in the program. I went to one wedding where the bride and groom bought beautiful centrepieces from a shop that they both enjoyed, and decorated them with flowers that meant something to the couple. I didn’t find out about the significance of it until well after the ceremony, when the meaning was lost on me. If I’d have known on the wedding day itself, it would have been so nice.

No matter how long-winded you think that the printed material is, I’ve seen it be a great conversation starter on the tables. If you’re holding a wedding ceremony that has traditions from both of your families, mention them! If you have decorated the space with little trinkets you’ve picked up as a couple, say so in the program! If you are honouring a particular culture with your wedding ceremony, mention what those traditions are, and why they’re important to you. Even the best planned weddings had plenty of hurry up and wait time. If your printed material has interesting little things in there about the couple, or about the wedding itself, it gives the guests something to do while they’re waiting in those boring moments. It also sparks conversations amongst the guests. I love a good wedding program.

This is just a few suggestions to help you get through the planning and execution of the party successfully. If anyone else has suggestions, feel free to weigh in! 

26 January 2015


There's an exercise I've both facilitated and participated in, called 4 corners. You split the room into 4 boxes. In each box, you write (with tape, on the floor, so it's nice and big) SA (strongly agree), A agree), SD (strongly disagree), D (disagree). Then, you read a series of questions to the group. While the question is being read, people move to the box that corresponds to how they feel about those issues.

Years ago, back in 1998, some of those questions would get extreme polarisation. One of those was "People should be allowed to be openly gay in the military." Back in 1998, there were some folk who thought (adamantly!) that it meant that people should be allowed to paint the rifles pink, and sashay around in makeup, until one of the ROTC kids spoke up and said, "Are you NUTS? If you think that's what it means to be gay, you need to check your stereotypes." Last year, when I attended a camp where the exercise was repeated (with the same age group of high school students), literally everyone was in the "strongly agree" box, because our concepts of what it means to be gay have evolved since 1998.

Some questions, however, still got severe polarisation.

"Should the children of people who immigrated to the USA illegally be allowed to go to public schools, regardless of where the children were born?" That one got people scattered all across the room. Some were wanting to straddle a line. The rules of the exercise is that it's not an option. There was a lot of really conflicting opinions, even from people who were in the strongly agree or strongly disagree boxes. People didn't always agree with each other.

Meanwhile, there was a large swathe of people who looked really torn, and didn't want to choose one side or the other, because their opinions weren't so cut and dry as the four choices we'd provided. They were more nuanced than that. There was shading to the black and white picture they'd drawn in their minds.

What does this exercise teach us?

For one thing, the voting process SUCKS. I understand that there isn't much better on a national scale, but frankly, what we're being fed is akin to the four boxes, only we frequently get just two. Both sides tell you, repeatedly, that if you don't make a choice for one of the two choices (neither of which you're completely comfortable with), you're literally worse than Chairman Mao, and you want communist fascist nazi overlords from Cuba to take over your country and enslave you, and how dare you question the validity of being presented two shitty choices that you feel uncomfortable making a stand on? This is the rhetoric coming from both sides.

That's what our voting system is, and it's not even got the strongly agree or strongly disagree. It's got yes or no. Look at ballot measures. They're frequently worded in such a manner as to obfuscate the actual message behind it. When proposition 8 was going down, half the people voting for the thing (in either direction) didn't know what their vote meant.

For another, it teaches us that just because someone voted in a particular way doesn't mean that the person is a monster who wants to kill your rights to _________. People's views are nuanced, and shaded. Unfortunately, the national dialogue about how to run things, how to care for people, and how to move forward with our spending, doesn't give people room to straddle the lines between the four (or two) boxes. You have to make a choice. You aren't given the chance to say "This is what is sort of in the neighbourhood of what I'm thinking, but I am not sure I understand all the ramifications of it," or "I can't say as I'd lean strongly in one direction or the other, because I see merits to both sides." The discourse is "You're with me or you're against me."

Bear in mind that the four corners exercise is done in a group of people where there are established guidelines about it being a safe space to voice your opinion, no matter how controversial it is. The fact that you have it is enough for you to express it, as long as you do so in a respectful manner. Ignorance is not a dirty word, but rather an opportunity to educate. If someone will not see your point of view, no matter what, you agree to disagree, and validate the person's willingness to listen. You remind each other that you care for each other as people, and that you respect the other's need to form and keep their own ideals.

With all those safeguards in place, people STILL had trouble making a stand for an issue. Now imagine how much harder it is, when all your friends seem to be leaning strongly in one direction, your family has its own direction, your spouse is saying something else, and there is no guarantee that your right to exist as a human will be validated or respected. In fact, you're getting the exact opposite. Both sides are calling the others a heartless monster, for whatever reason. The way someone leans on an issue often has consequences of his or her friends' opinions of the friendship.

Tell someone who's angry about the drug war that marijuana should remain illegal, and see how long you remain friends. Tell your gay son that you don't want to campaign against that hateful legislation, because your entire church group will turn its back on you, and see how long your son wants to be in your presence. We don't have those safeguards. We don't leave room for subtlety. We don't care about shades.

I think that I needed to commit this to writing, because I need to remind myself that my "opposition" is not made up of heartless monsters. It's made up of humans, who have moments of doubt, or where their views are nuanced. Whether or not they vote the same way I do, I have to remember that they're involved in the same shitty system that I am, and that they need to make the same shitty choices that I do.

20 January 2015

Visiting another podcast

The day before recording my own podcast, I was a guest on the Which Side podcast, with Jordan and Jeremy. They're a couple of activists working towards human and animal rights (whoo!) who host a show where they have a chat to people they want to hang out with. Instead of the bog standard stifling interview format, it's more of a free-flowing conversation. Of course, whenever I'm in the room (virtually or otherwise) the talk turns to food rather quickly.

Here's where you can find the link to the show, or just search for Which Side on the Podcast directory of your choice, and they'll be there.


Tell them Dino sent you.

18 January 2015

Cooking cheap greens

It's FINALLY hit above the freezing temperature here in New York, so I'm not as bummed out about cooking as I've been; the really cold weather makes it difficult to get up the motivation to do very much at all. To celebrate, I've put up a new podcast episode! Feel free to give it a listen.

05 January 2015

Give the help that someone asked for, or shut up already

I just had the experience of watching a friend of mine post a request from her more computer savvy friends to see if she was getting a decent deal on a computer. She posted a link to the computer. She mentioned that she wanted to do a bit of gaming, and didn't want to switch to a Mac, but would prefer to stick with a PC. However, the computer would be primarily for work. Simple enough, right?

Here's some appropriate responses:

1) Looks good for what you need it for. Get it.
2) Looks good for what you need it for, but I've found a better deal, and here it is.
3) This specific thing that you mentioned is going to run into trouble because of this other thing I've noticed about the specs on the machine you linked. (This isn't the case, because for her needs, the computer she linked was fine. In fact, it was more than fine.)
4) That particular computer/brand/store/warranty has given me trouble in the past.

Guess what responses never got posted? ANY of those. The first comment was a rant about how owning a Mac sucks. Then it went into how if you're going to be playing games, your machine can overheat, so go ahead and buy a fan to cool the thing. Then there was this thing about getting a Solid State Drive and switching out the drive that comes with the computer, because it'll enhance the performance of all the things you need it to do. It can take the boot time from 1 minute down to 25 seconds! WHOO!

Here's the thing. If you can't be of the help that the person asked for, shut up. She didn't want the dissertations on things that don't matter to her. She wanted to know if she was making a huge mistake by purchasing a computer, for her needs, all of which are pretty basic. Unless she's about to head in for disaster, OR you've found a better price, a simple "For what you need, that looks good" is more than enough.

This is why nobody wants to talk to the technically inclined.