07 December 2011

The book is out!

If you go to the PM Press website, you can order the book directly from them. In this version, I've got a bunch of spelling corrections, the recipe for the Demonic Mushrooms (essentially, spicy stuffed mushrooms), and corrections to amounts/times/temperatures. I'm very excited that it's finally here! Hooray!

01 December 2011

Pretzels, redux

As mentioned in this post, I made pretzels. A friend of mine (called GrauFrau) from an online cooking forum had a couple of comments:

Finally had time to try this! A few notes: The recipe is great. Smell, taste, and texture are perfect. However, I made one significant prep error. I should have rolled out the pretzels HALF as thick as I wanted them to be when finished. They looked nice until I dropped them in the solution, at which point they bloated up like crazy. So they look ugly, but that's ok - they taste wonderful!

The solution I used for dipping was close to 4 tbsp of the baked baking soda (Na2CO3) in the liter of boiling water. The dough floated almost immediately, and I kept each one in for 30 seconds. I baked them at 425F and turned them at 14 minutes, saw they were getting a bit too dark, and pulled them 5 minutes later. Next time I might try 400F and look at them at the 10-minute mark. Oh, and in case anyone doubts the necessity of the soda dip - see that hideous albino pretzel in the low left corner? I didn't dip him, just to see what he'd look like. He was baked right along with everyone else. I suppose it's still edible, but ew.

Anyway, definitely a great recipe. I'll be doing lots with this one. Now I can make my own pretzel rolls!

So, to review: roll them thinner than you think you'll want them, and you'll be in good shape. Thanks for the awesome picture, and for the tips! The baked baking soda she refers to is 1 lb of sodium bicarbonate, baked in the oven at 350 for an hour. If you'd like to do this too, use the opportunity to bake off some potatoes, butternut squash, roast some peppers, whatever. No sense in using up all that heat for one thing. It makes the baking soda stronger, and gives the pretzels a darker colour, like GrauFrau's came out. I can't be bothered to go through the extra step, and will continue to just do them the regular way, but if you're feeling like you want that good strong dark pretzel colour, give the whole baking the bicarbonate of soda thing a shot.

Thank you especially for doing one without the soda dip, so that everyone can see how important it is to follow every step.

Rice cooker Quinoa

Use a rice cooker! I'm serious. I was in a hurry, and decided to just try it out to see what happens. I used 6 "cups" of the millet & quinoa (50-50 mix), and filled the water to the 8 cup line, just as if I were making brown rice. I hit start on the regular white rice cycle, and let it go. At the end of the cycle, the rice pot beeped, and I had perfectly steamed millet and quinoa, cooked at the same time. They were cooked to perfection, and not sticky at all.

I find that if I make quinoa or millet by itself, they don't cook up as nicely. The quinoa tends to the overcooked stage, with the little swirly thingies falling out. The millet tends to the mushy, and sticky as heck side, with the whole thing becoming a globby mass. No thanks! From now on, I shall cook it in the rice cooker, and wind up with fluffy, tender, perfectly done millet and quinoa. From there, it's easy enough to use the grains just like you'd use rice.

If you don't have a fancy rice cooker with all kind of cycles, fret not! I did it with the rice cooker at work (which just has an on and an off button), and it came out perfectly there too. I just did the same measurement: 6 "cups" (and by "cups", I mean for you to use the measuring cup that came with the rice cooker; if you lost it, 1 "cup" is equal to 3/4 cups by dry measure, so do the conversions as necessary) of millet & quinoa, with enough water filled to the 8 cup line. If you have a larger cooker, I'm sure you could do 8 "cups" with water filled to the 10 cup line with similar results, but I'd suggest you don't experiment with this one. I know it may be tempting, but I've tested this out a few times, and it's always worked out with this ratio.

What to get your cooking friends.

There are certain kitchen things that you can never have enough of. They're the things that you reach for all the time, but are so ubiquitous that you don't even think about it. Also, when those things start going bad on you, you keep using them anyway, because laziness is preventing you from replacing them. I therefore make this list of stuff that any cooking person would be happy to get from anyone s/he knows.

1) Rubber Scrapers/Spatulas: You would be amazed at how frequently these things get used, especially in baking. Your hand will never get that bowl quite as cleaned off as the rubber scraper. If the person intends to use it for cooking, please get one that's rated to high temperatures. You can generally find these at restaurant supply stores for less than $2 a piece. There is no cook that I know who would say, "Oh, but I already have one rubber scraper." They get a lot of use, and are endlessly wearing out.

2) Pastry Brush: Not to be confused with a painting brush. Again, these get heavy use, be it for brushing oil onto bread before baking, brushing marinade onto whatever you're roasting in the oven, brushing sauce onto stuff on the grill, or whatever other brushy things you can think of. And, as usual, these get worn out with startling regularity.

3) Silicon Baking Mat: If the person doesn't already own one or two, they'll love them. If they /do/ own one or two, they'll thank you for expanding their collection. I get annoyed at having to use parchment paper all the time to prevent sticking on my baking sheets. Instead, the baking mats do an excellent job every single time, and you don't need to grease them. Everything slides off with the greatest of ease. They're very useful to have around.

4) Wooden Spoons: I'm so not even being funny here. Wooden spoons are used constantly, for stirring, especially if the person owns a lot of nonstick cookware. Unfortunately, they get kind of grody looking over time. Some folk would consider this a good thing. I don't. Give them enough use, and the spoons will start to splinter off. Ew. However, just like the pastry brushes and spatulas, one feels way too lazy to go buy a new one, even though one knows that a new one would be a pleasure to use. This is where the friends come in. You'll generally get a, "Thanks! I was meaning to replace mine anyway."

5) Vegetable Peelers: I linked two different kinds, because wars have been fought over the superiority of the y-peelers versus regular peelers, and I'm not about to get involved in that particular battle. (For the record, I loathe y-peelers. Just saying.) If you look in anyone's drawer, either the peeler sucks (these peelers I've linked are the kinds to AVOID at all costs) or is horribly blunt. In this particular case, I'm going to ask you to get the specific brand that I linked. Every other peeler I've used is horrible and isn't worth the money. Yes, that includes the nicer brands, like Kuhn Rikon or Zyliss. Get that specific brand, and you're good.

6) Storage Containers: (Especially glass ones. They're really nice to have around, and most people aren't ready to splurge on them.) This is actually a good gift for anyone, because they're so versatile. I'm forever looking for stuff to put my food in. Even if you got me Gladware, I'd still be happy. Why? Storage containers get lost. Their lids get lost. You loan them out and never see them again. They break. You can never have too many of them, as long as you keep throwing out the ones that are nasty or broken or lid-less (as I do).

7) Bar Towels: For some reason, kitchen towels seem to be designed by people who don't cook. They've got all kind of designs on them, and are made of thick terry cloth, which is difficult to keep clean looking. They're not very absorbent, or heat resistant, because they've frequently got polyester blends in them. Ew. Bar towels, on the other hand, are excellent kitchen towels.

None of these gifts is terribly romantic, or expensive. They're commonplace things, which most people could pick up at any store. They're things that folk will reach for every day, and think of you when they use them.

You're welcome.

If you have any ideas to add onto my list, let me know, and I'll do so.


Kitchen Timers: Why didn't I add this to my first list? Even if the person you know already has a kitchen timer, they will definitely be happy to have a second. Why? Because you're not always just timing one thing, especially when cooking elaborate dinners. You want to time the oven for the veggies roasting in there, while also timing the pasta that's cooking in the pot. And frankly, I don't want my phone in my kitchen to behave as a timer. I want to be handling something I can pick up with wet fingers, and that's cheap enough that if I break it or damage it, I won't care.

29 November 2011

A few of my favourite (kitchen) things

People frequently ask me whether they should buy a starter set from some company or another. I always strongly caution against that. Instead, I'd prefer that you buy a few excellent quality things (none of which are terribly expensive), and go from there. These aren't all completely necessary things (you may never reach for a pestle and mortar, because you don't actually use any spices that need crushing), so your mileage may vary, but I feel like for the price, all these items are very good deals.

Here is the list: http://www.amazon.com/lm/R3D907YKSJ0AG8/

26 November 2011

Ginger Tea

This morning, because of the heater, Steve's got a particularly nasty sounding cough. Time to brew up some ginger tea. This can be drunk on its own, or blended with whatever your favourite hot tea is. I generally serve it with a bit of green tea steeped in the hot liquid, but the choice is yours.

500 ml (2 cups, roughly) water
4 cloves
1 cardamom, in its pod
4 cm knob of ginger, sliced thinly
4 black peppercorns
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 lime, juiced
1 TB of your favourite tea (or 2 tea bags; ugh, tea bags)

Over highest heat, steep the clove, cardamom, sliced ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, and the juice of the lime (along with the leftover lime halves, if you're feeling adventurous) in rapidly boiling water for three minutes. Turn off the heat. Add your tea leaves. Allow it to steep for four minutes, with the heat off. Serve your tea piping hot. Strain out all the bits and bobs, and refresh it by pouring another 500 ml of boiling water over top the whole mess, and steeping it for five minutes. Strain again, and use the stuff for a third steeping.

If you're using tea bags, you need to steep the tea for four - six minutes, and only use it once. With actual tea, however, you can generally get three good steepings out of it, at the very least. In fact, the second and third steeping tastes better than the first one, which is why I suggest a relatively quick steep for the first go-around.

I and Steve both prefer this without sweetener, because it's so flavourful without. All the spices give a bit of sweetness on their own, without needing to rely on sugar. I urge you to try it on its own, and see if you can take a strongly flavoured tea, all on its own. You'll surprise yourself, as you reach for this blend for your morning cup of tea, and cut back drastically on the amount of sugar you pour on.

25 November 2011

Small quantities

It's a topic that's difficult for me to tackle, but frankly, I need to start cooking in small quantities when I'm at home. Why? Because if I don't, I'm going to wind up wasting food, and that's not a good way to keep my food shopping under control. Here's a helpful list for me to keep on hand, so that I remind myself of what a reasonably sized portion for one person (for one meal) should be.

1/4 cup of rice
1 potato
1/2 head of cauliflower
1/2 lb of spinach (cooked. Spinach is depressing in how much it cooks down!)
1/2 cup of beans
1 cup of red lentils (they're magic, and finish FAST)
1 cucumber
1 tomato
1 small red onion (or shallot, come to think of it)
1/2 cup of chickpeas, soaked and boiled (for hummus)

Ugh. This is depressing me. What are some tricks you all use to keep quantities small and manageable? I know I need to start doing it, because it's quicker too. 1 cup of rice or 1 cup of beans takes much less time to cook up than 5 cups of the same. Any tips from my lovely readers out there?

23 November 2011


Just a little note to thank you all for following my adventures all these years, and for a couple of random thank-yous to people who may or may not see them.

1) Thank you to the lady who let me go in front of her, because I only had one item to buy, and she had three. She had a small child with her, and I know how much of a challenge it can be to have an inquisitive child with you when you're shopping. Even then, she still thought of my comfort first, and that touched my heart. Thank you, lovely lady at the store! You've made my day a little brighter.

2) Thank you to the gentleman across the train who got up to let a father (who held his little girl in his arms) sit down. You didn't have to. What touched me even more was that there was a bit of a scramble of people (about three or four) who got up to offer him a seat. Were I on that side of the train, I'd have done the same. I'm glad to see that kindness exists out there, and that we're all eager to help each other out. It warmed me up on that cold, rainy night.

3) Thank you to Steve, who cleaned the kitchen for me yesterday, so that as soon as I got home, I was inspired to make beet daal. It was lovely, for the record.

Beet Daal

1 beet, grated
2 cups of red lentils
1 onion, chopped roughly
1 enormous piece of ginger, chopped very roughly
1 stalk of curry leaves
1/2 tsp oil
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp coriander seed, crushed lightly
1 tsp sesame seed
2 litres water

Start with the oil in a deep stock pot. Add the cumin and coriander seeds. Wait about 30 seconds into the popping before adding the curry leaves. Add the onion, ginger, and sesame seeds, and stir vigorously. Cook for about 2 minutes. You want the onion and the ginger to just barely cook. The reason you chop them into rough pieces is that you want the ginger to retain some of its raw peppery bite.

Then, add the red lentils and the water, and let the water come to a full rushing boil. Drop down the heat to medium, and cover the pot. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and go grate up your beet.

When the soup is done cooking at the end of the 25 minutes, turn off the heat, and stir in the grated beets. The whole thing will turn a vivid purple. It's a beautiful colour. Let the beets steep in the hot soup for about 10 minutes, so that they're just barely cooked through. Eat over steaming hot rice. You'll get little bites of just barely cooked ginger, and beet, and bursts of spice from the toasted seeds. Delicious on a cold, rainy day.

20 November 2011

Philly Style Soft Pretzels

From 11/20/11
EDIT: When rolling out the pretzels, please make sure to roll them out thinner than you think you want. As soon as you dip them into the boiling water, they will swell BIG TIME.

If I can manage to knock up a batch of pretzels without screwing it up, anyone can.

1 1/4 cups of water, at body temperature
1 package (2 tsp) of yeast
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups of all purpose flour, set aside for later
2 TB oil
2 tsp salt

Combine the water and yeast together, and let it dissolve. Then, combine the first two cups of flour with the yeast + water. Let the sponge (this is what the yeast, flour, and water mixture is called now) sit for about 20 minutes. At the end of 20 minutes, the sponge should have doubled in size. If it hasn't your yeast has gone off, and you've got problems. Let it sit in a warmer space for another 20 minutes, and see if that does anything.

It did nothing? Buy fresh yeast, and fold it into your sponge, and try again. This is why I love the sponge method: you aren't too invested in anything at the initial stages. You haven't kneaded anything, and there wasn't too terribly much work going into anything yet.

When your sponge has doubled in volume, fold in, bit by bit, the remaining flour, salt, and oil. You can do this on a counter if you're feeling adventurous (and don't mind the mess), or in a food processor or stand mixer if you own one of those. It also works in a bread machine. If the dough is too sticky, knead longer. It'll de-sticky eventually. If it's still too sticky, knead in a bit more flour.

Once the dough is well kneaded (for about 10 minutes, or 2 minutes in the mixer or food processor), let it rise in a large plastic box/bowl/container that's been greased. Lightly coat the dough in a film of grease, either with cooking spray or oil. This will prevent that gross crust from forming on the outside. Let it rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours (more if you're doing it at a cooler temperature, like in the winter), until it's doubled in volume.

Beat it down, and form into pretzel shapes of your liking.

Boiling Liquid

1 litre of water
2 heaped tablespoons baking soda

Boil the water, and dissolve the baking soda. Drop in the formed pretzels, one at a time into the liquid. When the pretzel rises to the top, continue to boil for another 30 seconds. Scoop out with a slotted spoon, and lay onto a parchment-lined, greased baking sheet. As soon as it's laid onto the baking sheet, sprinkle on your salt or sesame seeds (whichever you prefer is fine).

Bake at 425ºF for 14 minutes. Turn the pans, and bake for another 7 minutes.

10 November 2011

Quick Red Lentil Soup

When I'm at my friend Nick's house, I can generally count on certain spices being in stock at all times: dried parsley, curry powder, celery seed, and he's generally happy to snag some onion, garlic, and red lentils when I come over for our weekly hanging outs on Wednesdays (formerly Thursdays, but there you go). We found the red lentils at his local grocery store, and picked up a pound, so that I could make a soup. I made about a gallon or so of soup, and the four of us demolished it. Last night, I made another batch of it, and it turned out rather well.

1 tsp olive or canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped small
1 head of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
Pinch of celery seed
3 tsp curry powder
1 bunch of fresh parsley, or a couple of tablespoons of dried
Salt and black pepper, to taste (you can use cayenne pepper, red chile flakes, or any others you like)
1 lb red lentils (these cook up in 20 minutes, no soaking needed)
About 5 litres of water (some will evaporate)

Add onions, garlic, and olive oil to the pot, over medium high heat, and cover the lid after stirring well. Let them cook until completely softened. This took us about 25 minutes last night, on the stove that hates to be controlled. I would try to set it on low, and it would turn off. I settled on medium to let it cook for a longer time without browning. When you have such a small amount of oil, it'll want to make everything get burned rather quickly. The lower heat allows the juices of the onions and garlic to come out slowly, and prevent the burning.

When the onions and garlic are soft, throw in the celery seed, curry powder, and dried parsley. If you're using fresh, just add it at the last 5 minutes of cooking, and not at this point. Stir the spices with the onions and garlic, and continue to cook over medium heat (uncovered) for about two or three minutes. You want the raw taste of the spices to cook out.

Add the pound of red lentils, and stir thoroughly with the spices and aromatics. Add the water, and let it come to the boil (covered) on high heat. Let it continue to boil over high heat for about 20 minutes, or until the lentils are completely cooked down. Add more water as desired.

We powered through almost the entire pot last night. It was brothy and tasty, and we just kept going back for extra helpings, even though there was plenty of other stuff to eat.

06 November 2011

Beginner cooking, Pasta

Today, we discuss beginner's recipes. Specifically, we attack pasta. When you're making pasta, I find that it's good to make a sauce while you're waiting for the pasta water to come to a boil.

Garlic and Herb Sauce
3 or 4 TB olive oil
1 TB Italian seasoning (or, a combination of dried basil, dried oregano, dried marjoram, and dried thyme)
1 head of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 bunch of parsley, chopped finely
1/4 cup of pasta cooking water
Few pinches of red chile flakes

Heat the oil over medium low heat, and add the garlic and herbs. When the garlic is soft, add the fresh parsley, pasta water, and the (optional) red chile flakes. Turn off the heat, and wait for the pasta to finish cooking. Toss through with about 1 lb of cooked pasta of your choice.

This works really well with any kind of additions, like leftover veg (kale, broccoli rabe, etc), capers, olives, or beans. It's also a pretty basic starting point for if expanding into tomato sauces, etc., because once you master garlic and herbs, the sky is the limit!

30 October 2011


The Danes have their Æbelskiver, the Thai/Vietnamese have their Khnom Krok, the Japanese have their Takoyaki, and the Indians have their Painyaram. Paniyaram is essentially dosa batter that's been cooked in an æbeskiver pan. (Mine was bought for me by our dear friends Joanna and Mark Krull, of Long Island, for a wedding gift. She said that it was half for me, and half for Steve, because she knew that anything cooking-related would involve delicious food for Steve!)

Paniyaram is essentially dosa batter, with a bit of onion, some toasted cumin, a bit of salt, a pinch of red chile flakes, and thinned out thinner than a typical dosa batter. Suffice it to say that it was delicious.

The taste is somewhere between a dosa and an idli. It's got the crispy outside, while having a soft, fluffy inside. I cheated when making it, and soaked urad daal and fenugreek seed for a couple of hours. I ground the urad daal and fenugreek seeds until they were soft and creamy. Then, I added rice flour and glutinous rice flour, and mixed it all up with a bit of water. I let it ferment overnight on the counter (covered).

In the morning, I whipped it up with a bit of extra water (it had thickened up overnight), and all the spices, etc. I fried them off, and as you can see, they came out perfectly.

27 October 2011

Paprika is not just "red"

I hear it all the time, and it frustrates and annoys me. Turmeric is not there just for yellow colouring. Similarly, paprika is not there just for red colouring. Both spices have flavour, when treated properly. Both need to be toasted in a bit of fat for the complexity of their flavour and colour to emerge properly. Once you toast it in fat, you'll smell incredible aromas and earthy undertones in paprika that will knock your socks off. Please, try it. Better yet, just for kicks, combine equal parts paprika and turmeric, and toast them in a bit of fat, then pour it into whatever needs the most gorgeous orangey red colour you've ever experienced.

And stop saying that paprika has no flavour, and is just there for red colour.

26 October 2011

Soup, part 4

In this episode, we discuss basic soup theory, how to fix soups that have gone wrong, to stock or not to stock, etc. We even go over the commercial stock substitutes (stock cubes, demiglace in a jar, etc.), and my own opinions on them.

Mind you, I'm not completely averse to using stock, but frankly, I feel like for vegan food, we're fully capable of (shock, horror) using actual spices and herbs. I do go over a little on how to create your own stock, should the need arise.

Again, with the weird dreams.

It was around 6:00 AM, and I was in the midst of a fairly annoying dream. I had missed my bus stop, and was living in a place where there was no grid, so the streets did annoying things, like have names (not numbers), and curve and all kinds of other annoyances. I was running, because it was raining, and made a wrong turn.

It was some kind of religious animal slaughter avenue.

Yesterday at work, while chopping some herbs, I managed to cut the tip of my thumb fairly deeply. I reacted in fractions of a second, and put pressure on the flap of skin left on my thumb, and managed to prevent any blood from coming out. I then got a bandage on the wound tightly, so as to prevent any bleeding. My thumb hurt like the dickens for hours afterwards.

And there they were, cutting into that animal's body.

I felt so upset, that by the time I woke up that I had to empty my stomach in the bathroom. It was extremely violent and disturbing. I don't know what prompted that, as I'm fairly careful to avoid violent films, TV shows, and the rest. I didn't take any medications, or alcohol, or anything else that night before sleeping.

Thankfully, Steve was not a few inches away, on his side of the bed. I moved over, and felt safe, and managed to catch another 10 minutes or so of calming down before fully waking up.

25 October 2011

Soup, part 3

In today's (rebroadcast) podcast, we explore more about soup. Tomorrow will have the 4th and final part in the series.

24 October 2011

Soups, part 2

In our second part of the soup episodes, we cover fenugreek seeds, their uses, and how to find them.

23 October 2011


In today's podcast (rebroadcast of an old episode) we talk about soup. There's a bunch of stuff to cover, so this spans more than one episode. Thanks go out to Steve Day for sending me the old episodes that he had saved on his computer. Since these were his favourite episodes, I figured I'd start here.

In other words, anyone who is already reading my blog will be able to get my podcasts directly through this blog, rather than having to go to a separate site. :)

22 October 2011

Peeling garlic, updated

Take an entire head of garlic, and smash it with your palm, so that all the cloves separate. Put it in a large glass jar! SHAKE for about 20 seconds, quite vigorously. The skin will all fall off. NO MORE BOWLS!

I used a pint jar of jam, that I could hold in one hand. Use any sized jar that fits in your hand. The size matters not. You just need enough space for the garlic to toss around freely.

Michael Blate

I had this weird dream, where Caroline Rhea was living in this large house, filled with the friendliest, lovingest cats and dogs ever. They'd follow you around, and rub your leg with their faces until you reached down, or sat down for petting and sharing of love. It was adorable.

For whatever reason, it made me think of the late Michael Blate. He lived in an enormous house in Florida with many animals. There was an African grey parrot, two adorable goofy golden labs, a Pembroke welsh corgi (who bossed the bigger dogs around), a flock of geese (really watch-geese, if you ask me), and cats who roamed the territory. He'd have these prayer meetings at his house on Thursday nights, followed by a brief meditation and a Vedanta philosophy discussion, which I'd actively take part in.

I think I was either in middle school or high school, and Michael was the head of his family, which had his wife Gail, their daughter Laurie, Laurie's husband (whose name escapes me; he was usually at work when we came around, so I never saw much of him), and their son Kasey.

He never made me feel like because my thinking was coming from the mouth of a young kid, that it was any less valid or reasoned out. He would carefully listen to what I had to say before shooting back with his own ideas, and then listening to my rebuttal. It was never a case of "I need to be right," but "I share a mutual respect for you, and see the spark in your soul too; I recognise that by ignoring the bodies we wear, and recognising your mind." It was strange that someone who did so much reading, lived so long, and had spoken to so many people about so many things, was actually interested in what this kid had to say, and deeply respected my opinions.

To be fair, I had done just as much reading about Hinduism as Michael had. I'd read a pretty respectable chunk of the Hindu scriptures in my spare time, because I wanted to. I was surrounded by the stuff (dad is a priest; you're bound to pick up something, if you're paying attention), and we had friends who would give us excellent translations of the scriptures into English. I'd also spent a lot of time thinking about philosophical questions, and where one should walk towards. It was an odd time of my life.

When he died, I never quite processed my grief, because it had been years since I'd seen him when it happened. He moved to North Carolina, to this enormous stretch of land, with his family, animals, etc. So when it actually happened, I didn't really feel too terribly much about it. It's odd that I think of him now, when I've got this transition period going on with so many things in my life. People are coming and going, I'm moving (podcast spaces, that is; not my address, or god forbid, New York), I've got all kinds of other things going on. I haven't thought of him in a very long time, and if I'm strictly honest, I do miss him. He was a good man.

Him and his family were (and I assume still are) vegan. They're the quintessential healthy, happy, vegans. They eat excellent food, with lots of vegetables, and go about their lives quietly and contentedly. I don't recall their ever preaching at me or my sister when we came over to eat and play with Kasey. They introduced me to kale, which I love to this day.

It's 5:00 in the morning, and if I didn't set down my thoughts, I'd have lost them. Wherever you are, Michael, I miss you. You had a good impact on my life, because you respected me even though I was this know-it-all kid, who'd read way too many books for his own good. I raise my theoretical glass of water to you!

20 October 2011


Hi all! Thanks so much for keeping up with me all these years. I really appreciate it. As some of you may know, I kept a podcast going for a long time. Unfortunately, the site is down, and I can't contact the folks who owned alternativevegan.com, and I can't take over the domain, because I never bought/paid for the domain to begin with. Stuff happens, and the time comes for all of us to move on some day.

I will be moving to a new site. I have already asked iTunes to remove my podcast from the directory, because the site no longer exists, and you can't download anything from it anyway. When I do have the new site up and running, I'll update you all and let you know what's going on. For now, I'm not sure that there were that many listeners to begin with, so I'm in no rush to get things back up. As it is, I'd have to go back through my Garage Band files, convert them to mp3, and then upload them to the site. It's a lot of work that I'm not too keen on doing, especially when I've got a fairly loaded schedule.

If anyone out there has any old episodes, please let me know. It'll save me a huge amount of steps if I can just have a slush fund of the old episodes, and just upload them. I'm really not too keen on the time I'd need to spend on doing all that by hand, so unless I do have someone out there with old episodes, I won't be uploading them again.

New episodes, however, will be forthcoming, once I sort out hosting and all the rest. I really should have offered to take over paying for the stuff on my own ages ago, and I guess this is the gentle shove in the right direction that I needed. The folks who were paying for it all these years have been very generous with me, and never asked anything in return from them. I hope that they're doing well, if they see this, and know that I appreciate all they'd done for me in the past. They're dear friends, and I'm sad to have lost contact with them. I get a sickening feeling sometimes that they feel like I was taking advantage of their kindness.

Either way, it's a good enough reason for me to make a fresh start, and take control of my own stuff, and do a better job of keeping backups. What kind of idiot doesn't keep backups? This one. Ugh. Either way, I already discussed it with Steve, and he said that he's happy to let me buy a domain name and hosting plan of whatever size I'd need. Thankfully they're cheap enough to buy.

UPDATE: I don't need to bother buying a hosting plan, or moving to a new website. This blog itself is capable of hosting a podcast, and archive.org lets me upload my audio to their site for free. It takes a bit more time, but it's not impossible to do!

19 October 2011

Fixing mistakes, con'td.

Today, we'll be talking about a few tweaks that you can make to a dish, to ensure that it comes out tasting perfectly each time. There are those times when you've spent a long time following a recipe to the letter (from a cook that you trust), and the final result seems a little bland, or lacking in brightness, or missing a little something or other. There are things that can be done to round out sharp edges, add sharp edges, or generally tweak your dish to make it work out wonderfully.

Dish seems a little too heavy, even though it's not swimming in fat.
There are times when you'll follow a recipe that seems relatively light, but for whatever reason, the major thing is that you feel is heaviness. This has happened especially in cases of soups, but also in fresh dishes. There was this one salad I made, with a peanut dressing. Perfectly delectable on screen, lovely in theory, but a little plodding and heavy on the tongue. I wanted to eat it, because it was loaded with all manner of good things (grated carrot, grated cabbage, shredded beets, granny smith apples, walnuts, peanut dressing), and lots of fresh herbs (cilantro, scallion, ginger, etc). It had acid in the dressing, so I didn't think that it needed more, but it was definitely lacking something intangible.
I started by adding in the zest of a lime. That started its work. Then, just before eating it, I squeezed on the lime juice, even though the salad already had a bit of acid in. For some reason, that last-minute addition of the fresh lime juice (and I know for a fact that lemon juice/zest will do the same thing) just brightened things up immensely.

You've used tomato from the tin, and the whole thing tastes of tinned tomato.
I've done this more times than I can count, and each time it happens, I swear that I'll never use tinned tomatoes again, and that I'll only use tomatoes when they're in season, and what an idiot I am for trusting something from the bargains section of the dollar store, etc etc. Then I'll see a large #10 tin of tomatoes at the store for like $2, and I'll get tempted, and promptly forget the problem in the first place.
For whatever reason, I've found that using a few drops of vanilla extract in the dish seems to offset that tinny taste. Tomatoes are about the only thing I'll ever buy tinned, so I'm not sure if that trick will work for other tinned veg. Overall, I find tinned veg to be pretty horrible in any case, so I steer clear. I'd sooner buy frozen, if I can help it.

The dish is excellent in every way, except it's too hot spicy (from chiles or pepper).
Traditionally, I'd say that a pinch or two of sugar should sort it out, however, the other day, I learned something new for savoury dishes. A wine reduction (preferably a white), with a bit of miso and nutritional yeast (if those flavours would complement your dish), a hint of coconut milk, and a generous bit of cornstarch seems to do the job just as well as sugar, and doesn't add any unwanted sweetness to your meal.
I made a rice and beans dish at home, which I'd managed to mangle with way too much chile. I could swear up and down that the stuff wasn't the extra hot ground red chiles I buy from the Indian store, but the wimpy ones that I get from the local grocery store (I don't even know why I'd have the wimpy one at home; that stuff is foul). It tasted great, except for the fiery burning that I felt up and down my body.
Instead of adding sugar (because 1. I hate sugar, and 2. I don't keep any in the house, and 3. If my beans tasted sweet, I would be committing acts of violence upon my own person), I decided to use up a bit of white wine I had lying around (there was some leftover Pinot Griggio I had from a party), and reduce it down, because I didn't want the rice & beans to be too watery. Once it reduced by about half, I whisked in a bit of white miso, and nutritional yeast, and turned off the heat. I whisked in a bit of cornstarch dissolved in coconut milk, and turned the heat back up. When the whole thing became like a thickish sauce, I folded it into the rice and beans, and all was right with the world. The heat was nice and controlled, while still perking up in the background, and I didn't have to resort to using sugar.
If you're not a fan of wine, use a bit of water to combine the miso and nutritional yeast, and you'll be fine. I just had some lying around, and wanted to make sure that I cooked out the alcohol (husband doesn't drink) before putting it in the food. I feel like the trick would work with the water, but the wine brings out different flavours that weren't immediately apparent in the first go-around, and helps control the heat in that manner. Also, if I'm strictly honest with myself, the wine does have a bit of natural sweetness. :cough: Hush. We won't discuss it. Yes, you can use apple juice or white grape juice in place of wine.

18 October 2011

Fixing Mistakes

There are times, while cooking, when you realise that everything hasn't quite turned out like you'd expected. You thought you could eyeball the recipe (more or less), and did so. All of a sudden, the ratios are all off, your tongue and brain are both berating your eyes for missing the mark, and it looks like everything is about to go belly-up. These moments can be frustrating and disheartening, especially to a new cook. The trick is to not panic. Or realistically, to panic, but recover quickly.
There's a couple of things you can do before you start cooking to avoid disasters in the first place. There are also things that cannot be salvaged, and should not be salvaged. If you've burned your spices to an absolute crisp, just toss them out, and start over. Better to lose a few cents in off spies than to go through with the whole thing and end up with a horrible tasting disaster that now cost you a lot of time and effort. If your oil smells rancid, or when you start up your skillet, you smell something rancid, throw out that fat, and start over. Clean the pan thoroughly, and try again.
Rancid oil cannot be covered up, no matter how much you'd like to think so. I was once using a cast iron skillet that I hadn't touched in a while. I also foolishly left a small pool of oil on it for too long. Instead of doing the sensible thing and cleaning it off first, I made up a batch of dosa. A rancid smelling batch of horrible dosa. A rancidness that just did not fade, no matter how many changes of oil I'd put in. Once I gave the skillet a good scrubbing, all was well. But then, there was a batch of 15 dosa that had to go in the bin, because I'd been too foolish to stop while I was ahead, and just start over.
This goes double for burnt spices. I'd started off a lemon rice, and let the mustard seeds go too long. They weren't just popped, they were little blackened bullets of charred mess. I bull-headedly kept going, and burnt the hell out of the cumin seeds and the urad daal too. Y'see, when the pan is too hot for the one spice, it follows that adding more spices will mean that you have even more burning, and not less. I don't know /where/ my head was. In any case, I managed to thoroughly burn the seven hells out of the spices. I kept going.
Bad move.
The final dish tasted absolutely inedible and awful. It wasn't worth salvaging. It couldn't be salvaged. If I'd had any sense, I'd have stopped the instant that I saw the oil smoking too much. If I'd had less sense, I'd have stopped when I realised that the mustard seeds went from just a little heavily browned (which is fine) to outright black char. I could have pitched the spices, and been OK with a fresh pot of oil and a bit more spices. Sometimes, it's important to know when to stop, so that you can save yourself much more pain down the road.
Or, there was the one time I'd made a walnut date crust. It seemed awfully fatty when I was putting it into the pie pan. I didn't listen to my instincts, and stop. I just kept going. In went carefully layered fruits, arranged in concentric circles, with a bit of sweetener in between. The whole thing was a disaster and a half. I should have realised that when the recipe says soaked DATES, that date puree will not do. When the crust felt too fatty, I should have stopped, re-calibrated things, and kept going.
Long story short, before you take any of these tips on how to save your almost disasters, please understand that I'm not condoning you keep chugging along when things have gone to hell and back. Know when to stop. It'll save you a lot of tears.
But all that aside, there are times when things aren't going quite according to plan, when you can stop yourself, tweak a bit here and there, and move forward. It'll work out just fine in the end.
Your hummus is way too thin, and you're out of chickpeas.
The prevention for this is to set aside about a small handful of chickpeas, while you make the hummus. If your hummus is just fine, and perfectly thick, just blend them separately with a bit of your hummus, and mix the lot together. Far more frequently, however, you'll need to add more chickpeas, because you overshoot perfect and creamy. In fact, it's so common that I've powered through huge amounts of tahini in doing so. That's the fix-it solution, by the by. Tahini. Lots of it.
Suppose you're making hummus, and your processor is merrily chugging along. It's taking too long for your liking, so you splash in a bit more fat or water to smooth things along. The processor kicks up speed, and demolishes the stuff in it. You open the lid, and the hummus isn't thick and creamy but droopy and runny. You promised to bring hummus! If you don't bring hummus, they'll take away your vegan card! (It's true. By the by, if anyone wants to know what to get your favourite vegan blogger with a sense of humour about his own veganism, get him that t-shirt. It's wicked cute.)
Start, bit by bit, adding more hummus, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, or any other toasted nuts you like. It'll add a richness and creaminess that will make your hummus taste far superior to other hummus that folk have eaten. It thickens up quite beautifully If you want to avoid over-adding water, there is another trick you can use to make the processor cream the chickpeas easier, and not have to add too much water.
Cheat and use a little bit of white beans in your mix. For every 2 cups of chickpeas that you soak overnight, soak 1/2 cup of white beans in a separate container. (Or, do what I do and soak the full 2 cups of white beans, and follow up the hummus making with rosemary & white bean dip). Essentially, you're looking for a 4:1 ratio of chickpeas to white beans. For whatever reason, the white beans seem to cream up much easier than the chickpeas. I don't know why. I discovered it by accident, when I made a batch of hummus after making a batch of white bean dip (and not clearing out the last 2 inches or so of white beans left in the processor).

Your roux based sauce is too thin. 
The way to prevent this is to carefully measure out the fat and the flour, and make sure that the liquid is proportionate to the colour of your roux. Here's an easy way to remember how to work your roux: 1 TB of fat and 1 TB of flour will thicken up 1/2 cup of liquid when the roux isn't too dark. This means that you'll need to actually measure out a level tablespoon of fat and a level tablespoon of flour, so that you've got the proper thickening going down. The reason that I mention the darkness of the roux is because the darker roux don't tend to thicken as well as the lighter ones. This is why it's best to work best with medium low heat, and gradually get to the colour you want, so that you don't end up overshooting the mark, and get something that doesn't thicken correctly.
Suppose that you did indeed overshoot the mark, and your gravy/cream sauce/sauce is too thin. Don't use a slurry of flour and water. It'll require that you cook the thing for much longer to work out the raw flour taste. Don't use a flour/fat mixture that you whisk in. Just make more roux. It'll be fine. Get out a separate little pot, throw in a bit more fat, and a bit more flour, whisk for a couple of minutes to cook out the raw flour taste, and whisk in the too-thin sauce, and pour the mixture back into the thin sauce. Bring it to the boil, and you're set.
If you've run out of flour, whisk a bit of cornstarch with some water (about 1 TB of water with 1/2 TB of cornstarch), and pour that slurry into the thin sauce. The reason that cornstarch will work well is because cornstarch comes up to cooked stage much more quickly than flour.

Your rice isn't cooked to done-ness (while some of the grains are). 
This happens from time to time, when the water to rice ratio is off. It's happened more times than I care to remember. What I tend to do is add a bit more water, put it into a pyrex dish, and microwave it (covered) for about 10 minutes. That's usually enough to get the last few stubborn grains to finish cooking. If they're still not done, sprinkle in a bit more water, and let it go another 7 minutes in the microwave.
The reason that I suggest using the microwave as opposed to the stove or putting it back in the rice cooker, is because the microwave tends to cook rice on the drier side. The stoves and rice cookers tend to need more liquid, and tend to steer the whole mess towards a mushy mass. The microwave, on the other hand, tends towards a bit drier.

This is, of course, just a start. There are plenty of other things that can go wrong along the way, and I'm sure I'll mention more in future. I wanted to mention these simple things, so that you all can get more confident in your kitchen.

12 October 2011

Dinner in no time flat

A couple of nights ago (Monday, I think?) Steve had invited friends over unexpectedly, and I had roughly 20 minutes to get my act together, and get a meal on the table. Thankfully, I had food in the fridge that I could reconfigure into a decent dinner. I had daal, rice, steamed snow peas, a couple of different dressings that I had made on Saturday to eat with the steamed snow peas, a quick vegetable dish I'd made with some spices, and a bunch of other things lying around. I got to work immediately.

I didn't have quite as much daal as I'd normally need to feed four people, so I decided to combine the rice, veg, and daal together in one pot, and make it like if that was the intention all along. There are multiple dishes all across the world that involve rice, beans, and veg, and this would be no exception. I brought a small amount of water to the boil, dumped in the daal, veg, and rice, and slammed on the lid, while I peeled some garlic. I reheated the snow peas, and gave the dressings a quick once over with a whisk. I also sliced up some courgette to dip into the dressings. This way, you'd have a choice of what you wanted to dip into the dressings.

Then, I grated off a cucumber, chopped up a small red onion, and tossed it with lime juice and a touch of salt. I also made a very quick courgette and cabbage thing. I popped mustard seeds, and roasted urad daal in hot fat, added some onion, stirred a bit, added chopped cabbage and courgette at the same time, and gave it a stir-fry until everything was cooked through. Just about then, I heard tinkling at the door. I quickly threw some garlic into the rice & daal pot (I used my garlic press, to make the fresh garlic smell waft through the air).

I stirred everything up together, turned off the stove, and started bringing out the dishes to the table, one after another. Once I'd filled the water jug with ice and water, the table looked positively overflowing with food! I found that when you make more varieties, the small quantities don't seem so small. When you make things that are meant to dip into other things, it makes things more communal, and friendly seeming. Everyone is picking up stuff and passing it around, rather than isolating.

The point is that if you keep a couple of different varieties of things in your fridge at all times (leftovers, essentially), you can perk them up with a bit of fresh garlic, and by combining them in different ways. Throw down some dressings, and you're golden.

Peanut Sauce
3 TB peanut butter
3 inches of ginger, chopped roughly
2 cloves garlic
Hefty pinch of salt
Hefty pinch of cayenne pepper or your favourite ground red chiles
1 1/2 tsp Rice wine vinegar
Water, to thin things out

Combine the peanut butter, ginger, vinegar, and about 3 TB of water into a blender. Grind on low speed until the ginger and garlic are chopped up more. Blend on medium high until everything is smooth. If you feel like the dressing is too thick, and isn't grinding up properly, just add more water until you reach the consistency you like.

10 October 2011

Reach out

I decided that I'd set a goal for myself to reach out to at least one person whom I haven't kept in contact with (even though I swore up and down that I'd never forget them, and we'd stay in touch). In a way, for me, it's almost as if I were doing wrong by them by not keeping up my side of the acquaintanceship. Mind you, things like facebook and twitter give an illusion of keeping in contact, but in reality, there are many folk with whom I have not had a good conversation, even though I deeply enjoy their company, and love talking to them. I felt guilty, and pledged to do something about it.

So I did. I reached out, and sent an email to a couple of people, as of Wednesday of last week. Today, when I got back to work, my inbox was filled with love from the people whom I'd lost contact with. If I am strictly honest with myself, I will likely end up losing touch with those same people again, but for now, our two souls have connected, and a small spark of kindness has been released into the world. There's just something about writing a letter to someone which (to me) is a lot more personal and meaningful than pressing a "like" button on something. I don't expect all my correspondences with people to always be deep and meaningful, but when they are, I enjoy them.

This goes back to how a lot of my friends work: we'll enjoy our time together immensely, then we'll go back to life as usual. Then, once in a while, we'll "find" each other again, and pick up where we left off. There's no guilt about not keeping in touch better than we "should", because both of us lead very busy lives. Trips happen, work happens, life happens. In between it all, somewhere, one needs to keep living, breathing, eating, and sleeping.

The reason I deleted that facebook account was because so much of the interaction was automated. It would tell me all kinds of things that I didn't really care about. I wasn't bothered about someone's score on some game. I'm not concerned whether or not a random person out there likes some dumb video about something that isn't all that funny to begin with, but every idiot is watching it with rapt attention. I'll be here reading my book, thank you.

It's also the reason I'm finding myself increasingly isolated from people who don't "get it". While I've had my nose stuck in a book all week, they're watching countless hours of mind-numbing TV, and expect me to care or keep up with it. Honestly though, I'm not bothered. I haven't kept up a TV watching diet in a very long time, and I have no intention of starting now. My escape has become reading books from the library or my own personal collection. I've been enjoying myself by listening to podcasts with interesting content that I'm learning from. I enjoy cooking, and learning new things about food.

My mother and I spoke last night, and she was so excited about that garlic peeling with two bowls trick. She tried it, and it worked. Now both of us have learned to peel garlic quickly, and are cheerfully throwing it into all kinds of things. I enjoy a lot of the youtube cooking videos that people create in their own kitchens. http://youtu.be/A9WnwK0cMng video that I was watching the other day taught me to make vada using urad daal, which means that the soaking process only takes about 1 1/2 hours, versus overnight. I didn't have any white rice in the house, so I used poha instead. It was a dream! The vada came out crispy and perfect. In fact, it stayed crispy even after sitting around a bit. It's a very cute video, because I understand both the mother and daughter, and they really are saying (more or less) the same thing.

I'm not sure quire where I'm going with all this. I just wanted to get my thoughts down, before they go flying off somewhere else, as they are wont to do.

09 October 2011

Learning to food.

Just after I wrote my hummus post, someone had asked about hummus, and how to sort it out. She hadn't made it herself, but enjoyed the stuff from the store. She listed the ingredients. The first ingredient was NOT chickpeas. It was water. It did not have fresh lemon juice, but it had citric acid instead. It also had some kind of food starch in there. It didn't have olive oil, it had soybean. I'm sorry, but if your first ingredient for hummus is NOT chickpeas, that's just not hummus anymore. I recall there was a debacle about guacamole that contained TWO PERCENT AVOCADO. That's disgusting.

Anyway. She seemed a little nervous about the whole process, but was willing to give it a go, on the grounds that there were plenty of folk on that message board writing encouraging things, and getting her through the sometimes daunting and confusing world of hummus making. The next day, she came back and posted that she found her own hummus to be far superior to the stuff from the store, and she was enjoying it with carrot sticks. Victory!

07 October 2011


There's something about rituals that give connections between two people, and few of these are as powerful as food and drink. I remember my mother telling me stories of how her father (and, come to think of it, mother-in-law) would take great pains to make sure that the morning cup of coffee was just so. My mother, not being a coffee drinker, didn't have that connection to her mother-in-law. Her dad and her had different rituals, so that was fine, but when you come into a new house, there's something about that coffee drinking ritual that binds people. "How do you like your coffee" is almost code speak for, "I love you and want you to be happy."

This goes for tea, alcohol, and other such things that have such rituals associated with them. I can't count the number of times that I've sat across from a girl friend, while she poured her heart out over a long island iced tea, or a cup of tea. I've had some great conversations over a steaming pot of Turkish coffee, and a plate of baklava. Every time my boss gets a chance, he'll pick me up a caffeine free soda on the way to work, grab himself a soda as well, so that we can drink the beverages together in the morning. Again, it's not the actual beverage that's important, but the fact that you're both having versions of the same thing, together, to the exclusion of everyone else on the planet. This was the same thing when I was in Florida, and working around lots of people whom I genuinely liked. We'd all go grab a soda from the machine, and gossip furiously while sipping said soda.

Mind you, my boss is a confirmed coffee drinker. My friends and I do drink alcohol. However, in certain contexts (I don't drink coffee, or in the case of my friends at the old job, drinking alcohol at working hours is inappropriate), you shift the beverage to suit the needs of all the people there, so that it still gives that sense of belonging, of bonding, of togetherness. One of my dear friends, Dan, used to live nearby me, and would come over (in my eyes, too infrequently, in his, quite often) for food at my house, because we really liked each other's company. He doesn't drink alcohol, because he's a muslim. So instead, he'd bring over a nice bottle of exotic juice of various kinds, be it mango, passion fruit, whatever. Again, it was the sharing of something special that brought us together, in addition to the meal.

When I'm over to visit my brother's house in DC, I have a cup of coffee in the morning with my sister-in-law and my brother. In my normal life, I assiduously avoid caffeine. A soda can keep me up all night. However, for the sake of the ritual, I'll put that aside, and indulge. Frankly, after running around with multiple children underfoot, I fall asleep blissfully tired anyway, caffeine or no caffeine.

What am I getting at overall?

Rituals are important. They bind us to the people that we share them with, and they bind us to the people who came before us. We're in the midst of the major holy days for Judaism, are about to hit some major national holidays in the USA, and will have multiple other reasons to celebrate in the coming months.

This is where I encourage you to NOT take one thing with you that's vegan to your family's house.

Don't look at me like that.

Take MULTIPLE things.

Don't just bring one thing that you and your partner can eat. Bring a main dish, a couple of sides, and at least one baked good. Why? Because if you bring just the one thing, your contribution will get lost in the shuffle. If you bring a couple of excellent sides, a main, and a dessert, you'll have multiple things that folk will have a chance to try, and rave over. For example, if you're going to a Thanksgiving meal, offer to bring the mashed potatoes. 5 lbs of red or yukon gold potatoes, boiled. 2 cups of coconut milk. 1 head of roasted garlic. A good hefty few pinches of salt. A good grinding of black pepper. Smash together, and eat. So good.

Offer to bring a puffed tofu dish. Toss cubed extra firm tofu, cornmeal (enough to make a light breading), garlic powder, thyme, turmeric, plenty of salt, plenty of ground black pepper, a bit of turmeric for colour, and a good dose of vegetable oil. Toss everything together, and lay it out on a parchment sheet. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes, until all the tofu is puffed up and crisp on the outside. Don't skimp on the fat or the salt. It needs it.

Offer to bring a set of cupcakes, or cookies, or pie. There's a thousand and a half recipes out there that work very well. Make them and take them along. You will begin new rituals that form ties to the old ones. I love going with Steve to his family gatherings in Chicago. His family is lovely, and they look forward to my coming over, because they know I'm not going to bring twigs and bark, but rather things that are luscious and decadent. They know to expect things that leave them feeling full and happy, and remind them of the good tastes of home. This is not the time to break out the bark and twigs. Seriously. It's not. Eat that at home, with people that you know will appreciate it.

If you're going to take a salad, make sure that it's such a riot of colours and textures and flavours that nobody can resist. Throw in stuff that people always wanted to try, but were afraid of, like jicama, celery root, fennel bulbs, every colour of bell pepper you can find, lots of fresh herbs, citrus zest. Go nuts! Add walnuts, pecans, slivered almonds. The point of a celebration is that you enjoy things that you don't do every other day.

Because more important than the actual ritual itself is the people involved in it. Maybe the reason that the family's always done things just so is because they've never had any reason to change. Whatever it is that you do to make these social events bearable, do them. The best thing you can do for healthy happy vegans everywhere is to show the world that there /are/ healthy happy vegans out there.

06 October 2011


There's a couple of things that you can do to ensure that your hummus comes out ultra super creamy and tasty. You can increase the fat, increase the cooking time, or increase the liquid (to an extent). All of the techniques leave you with a different kind of hummus at the end, but regardless, they're all tasty.

First and foremost is the option of increasing the amount of fat you put in. This can mean more olive oil or tahini than the recipe calls for. There's a couple of considerations to this method. For one thing, the tahini is going to thicken the hummus. It'll give it a mild bitter edge if you're too generous with how much you put in. Mind you, your chickpeas can take a lot! They can probably take much more than you think that they can, and still be extremely tasty. I've gotten away with (for about 1 lb of chickpeas, soaked, boiled, and drained) up to a half cup of tahini, and had it all come out very well! Just bear in mind that tahini is (1) expensive, and (2) mildly bitter. If you're already adding in bitter things, like bell peppers or walnuts (both of which can bring out bitter flavours if you're not careful), you want to ease on up with the tahini, and bump up the oil instead.

Unfortunately, adding extra oil to the mix means that you'll end up with a slightly more runny hummus. Again, this is OK, as long as you've got enough chickpeas and tahini to balance out. If you do end up (mistakenly) adding too much oil, throw in a handful of almonds to thicken things up. It'll take a little longer to grind it down until the hummus is smooth, but it's OK. You'll get there.

Finally, you can add a bit more water. Like the oil, you're still working with ingredients that will give you a more runny product, so please be careful when you add water.

I mentioned cooking time for a very good reason. For the best hummus ever, use dried beans, that you soak overnight in cold water, then drain the next morning, rinse well, then boil the beans until they're tender. You want the beans to cook until they're all the way tender. Don't stop until everything is cooked through. The problem with tinned beans is that they aren't built to break down. Something about the masses of salt that they're packed in makes it difficult for the beans to grind down to a smooth paste. They'll grind if you give them a long time in the food processor, but they'll take an awfully long time. It's not pleasant at all to have chunks of chickpeas left in your hummus.

Yes, it takes a lot longer, but the payoff is well worth it. Please soak your beans in cold water, then boil them the next day. Why does't pressure cooking or quick soaking (wherein you soak the beans for 1 hour in boiling water, drain, then boil over the stove) work as well? The beans don't get as thoroughly hydrated in quick cooking methods as you would when you're being slow and deliberate. That extra time that you spend in the soaking and cooking process will give you thoroughly hydrated beans, that are cooked all the way through to the middle, perfectly. No problems with stubborn beans that won't grind down properly.

I'll also note here that if you want to increase the lemon flavour in your hummus, please consider using the zest of the lemon, along with the juice. If you add too much lemon juice, you'll end up with a hummus that's closer to a dressing, than a creamy dip. The zest of the lemon will increase the lemony taste without increasing (too much) the acidity of the whole mix.

At the end of the day, I'd rather you were eating any hummus at all, because it really is a tasty and healthy treat. So even if it means you buy the tinned chickpeas, or use peanut butter or almond butter in place of tahini because your local store ran out of tahini and won't be in stock until the next week (this actually happened once), or you end up making it runny because you're using a blender (which you shouldn't be doing, but how am I going to stop you from doing so?), or you don't have any mechanical grinding tools, so you sit there and pound with a pestle and mortar, or a potato masher. However you get the stuff into you, go ahead and do it. I'll probably still enjoy it immensely, with either bread, sliced cucumbers, carrot sticks, sliced apples, or my greedy face.

2 cups dry chickpeas, soaked overnight, rinsed, and boiled until tender
3 - 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tahini
2 lemon, juiced and zested
2 TB cumin seeds, lightly toasted and crushed or ground in a pestle and mortar
Salt, to taste
1 cup water, in reserve
1 bunch parsley
3 TB olive oil, for topping

When your chickpeas are cooked to perfection, drain them well, and rinse them off in cold running water to cool them off completely. Add the garlic to the food processor, and give the blade a spin to chop up the garlic. Add the chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Let the food processor run until all the ingredients are combined thoroughly. Add water, 1 TB at a time, until desired creaminess is achieved.

Top with ground cumin, chopped parsley, and olive oil. Serve with bread, sliced vegetables, or a big spoon. :)

05 October 2011


Working with turmeric can be a bit of a challenge, because it really is a strong dye. You spill that stuff onto your counter, and you've got a pretty long-lasting horrible looking stain. If you do manage to spill some onto your white dress, apron, or otherwise, just rinse it lightly in soapy water, and dry it out in the sun. It may take one or two dryings to get it to completely bleach out to white again, but it'll get there eventually. Or, as my mother says, "You could use Oxyclean. That stuff cleans everything."

For the record, it was also my mother who mentioned that drying in the sun will clean turmeric stains.

But this isn't about how to stain with turmeric. It's about how to cook with it.

Turmeric likes fat. Its colour gets much stronger, and more intense when there is fat present. It goes from bright yellow, to a more burnished, brownish-reddish-orange that looks very tempting. When combined with some kind of alkaline food, it'll turn a more reddy-orange. However, for whatever reason, there are multiple recipes that call for turmeric to be added raw. Ew. It's got a very odd taste when it's raw. In fact, there's recipes that I've seen that call for large quantities of the stuff raw. Eeeeeeewww.

Please, if you're using it, just toast it in a tiny bit of fat. You need not drown your recipe in fat, but a little goes a long way to making the colour and flavour be so much more enjoyable. In fact, the next time you see tumeric in a recipe where there's also some fat, just say in your head "and toast it in fat".

Here's how it works.

Start with your hot pan or pot with fat in it. Add your whole spices (cumin, coriander, sesame, etc). When the seeds pop, turn off the heat, and add your turmeric. Remove the pot from the heat, and stir it all around. Then, add it to whatever it is you're cooking.

Mind you, I'm aware that there are South Indian recipes that call for boiling the turmeric with the veggies, or daal. This isn't necessarily wrong. I'm just right.

FAST garlic peeling.


How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less Than 10 Seconds from SAVEUR.com on Vimeo.

Essentially, you take two stainless steel bowls of roughly equal size. Take a head of garlic. Smash it with the heel of your palm to break it apart into individual cloves. Dump the lot into a bowl. Cover the top with another bowl. Shake shake shake. I tried this at home with a couple of different things. Since the concept seemed to be tumbling garlic together, I tried this with a tupperware box. No dice. It seems like the round shape of the bowl keeps things moving. I tried this with a plastic salad bowl with lid. Still no dice. It needs to be /two/ bowls. I tried this with two plastic bowls. It was getting better, but I had a couple of cloves still tightly holding onto the skin.

Two stainless steel bowls, of comically large size later, and I had a head of perfectly peeled garlic. I think part of the peeling process is the smashing with the heel of your palm. I tried with just loose garlic cloves that were lying around, and they didn't work as well. The other part is agitating against the stainless steel bowl, which has a bit more grip than plastic or ceramic. It clings to the garlic, and not the skin. Also, with the cloves of garlic smashing around, and hitting each other, you've got a bit more abrasion going on than you would if it were one or two cloves of garlic.

Try it out, with two large stainless steel bowls, and you'll be happy that you did. Next step is to chop them. Or, to leave them whole. Or, to run them through a garlic press. I got one of these garlic presses a few months back, for a review copy, and have been impressed thus far. The cost seems to be fairly reasonable. The thing about it is that the OXO doesn't like unpeeled garlic. With this method, you can use the OXO, which does a fine job of getting the garlic into your cooking pot (rather than all over your counter, or stove, as the old style ones used to), and is easy to press without a lot of effort.

Frankly, I'm quite happy to use an entire head of garlic in my meals, but if you're not, there's a trick to storing peeled garlic. Just place an absorbent paper towel (lightly crumpled) in the bottom of a tupperware container that's just big enough to store the garlic cloves. Dump in the peeled garlic. Cover the lid tightly, and place it in your vegetable drawer of the fridge. It'll last a good few days, and won't get all wet and gross on you. Mind you, it is still best to use your peeled garlic immediately, but if you can't, you can buy yourself a couple of days of insurance.

If you do want to use the whole head, and don't want a SUPER strong garlic odour, just add it into your hot fat, at the beginning of cooking, rather than towards the end. Add it even before you add onions. The sharp bite will cook out, and the garlic will get more mellow. When you eat the final dish, it'll be garlicky without being overpoweringly garlicky.

Final note: do not let the garlic get more than a medium brown while you cook it in the hot fat. Burned garlic is bitter, and extremely unpleasant.

13 September 2011


What's the secret to divinely good food? Enough onions! I made a soup today, at the restaurant, and took a taste (for quality control, of course). It completely knocked my socks off (and I wasn't even wearing socks!). It had happened quite by accident.

I started sauteeing enough onions to make a large batch of soup. But then, when I went to the walk-in fridge, I realised that we were painfully short of the dark leafy greens that I wanted to use in said soup. It was going to be a riff on the classic Vichyssoise (potato leek soup), but instead of leeks, I used onions, and instead of plain potatoes, I was using potatoes, collard greens, and spinach, and then blending the lot together.

I also realised that I didn't have quite as many potatoes as I thought. This would mean that I had about triple the amount of onions that the recipe usually calls for. I cooked the onions down further than I normally would, and let them get a nice medium brown colour. I also added a bit of garlic to boost the flavours. When I added the last finishing touches, and gave the broth a taste, it was fantastic!

Then, when I finally pureed the lot of it together, I was in absolute heaven. All those extra onions gave the soup a really nice, bold taste. I'm not sure that I can do this every time, but once in a while should be fine.

Three 3s

The lovely ladies at Our Hen House gave a talk at the PA VegFest, and mentioned their Three 3s, which is three reasons to go vegan, three tips to transition to veganism, and three favourite resources. For the Hen House ladies, they needed to give a talk, and needed to keep it short, so their Three 3s were like little sound-bites. For us, we'll likely ramble a bit more, because this is me you're talking about, and I like to ramble. Feel free to skim, or read it all, or add your own!
Mind you, these are my own personal reasons, and don't reflect everyone here at Chow, or every vegan. Each vegan will have her or his own opinions. Get three vegans in a room, and you'll have five opinions on the same subject. :)

Three Reasons To Go Vegan
1. It's really fun & easy! Once you realise that eating vegan simply means opening up your eyes to the vast array of plant life (most of which is stunningly delicious), you start discovering new and interesting ways to fill your tummy. Once I went vegan, I began to introduce myself to vegetables that I'd ignored in the past, and began trying grains and pulses that I'd ordinarily pass by because they're "too expensive".
Cutting out the animal products made it so that I could afford a higher quality of food, and not really worry about watching myself carefully. Yes, quinoa can easily run about $3+ per pound, but how many pounds of quinoa can you really scarf in one sitting? That stuff expands like mad, and it's very filling. Splurge and enjoy it!
2. Animals are not there to be used by humans; they have their own wants, needs, and lives, and my life shouldn't interfere with theirs. This thought of peaceful co-existence spreads to my desire to see to it that all people, regardless of the shape they take in this lifetime, deserve to be treated fairly, and it's my responsibility to see to it that I do my best to reflect that. I'm not always 100% successful, but to strive for that is a noble goal.
3. I feel more at peace with my life, and the choices I make on a regular basis. When I was a vegetarian, and ate eggs and cow's milk, I always had an uneasy feeling in my soul that something wasn't quite right. Why was it OK for my needs/wants/desires to trump the needs/wants/desires of those animals to be left alone? Why is it OK for a system of living to thrive where the things that I consume are the products of suffering, of both human and nonhuman animals? It wasn't. I didn't feel comfortable with it, which is why I made the leap over to the vegan side.
I couldn't comfortably answer the questions of "what happens to the male cows, male goats, male chickens, who don't "produce" the products (milk, eggs, etc) that people want to eat?" I couldn't comfortably answer the questions of, "What happens to "spent" chickens, goats, or cows?" I was vegetarian from birth, for religious reasons, so I'd never really examined the reason to be a vegetarian until I got to school, and the other kids were asking me why my lunch didn't have any meat in it. Once I began to question my parents, and we all sat down to discuss it, I realised that my religion disallowed the eating of animals, because killing animals for food is not OK.
I was comfortable at that point, until I kept asking questions, like the ones that made me uncomfortable. When I finally came to the conclusion that the questions I was asking /are/ valid, and that silently continuing wouldn't do anymore, I made my change. Again, I'm not perfect, and won't ever say that I am. However, I'm striving to live by my ideals, and it makes me feel much more at peace with myself and my conscience.

3 Tips to Transitioning to Veganism
1. Find other vegans, and soon. If you live in the middle of nowhere, get online, and start subscribing to blogs, news sites, and podcasts. Find every vegan cooking show, food blog, website that you can possibly find, and read them voraciously. Find vegan forums, and start making friends there. This goes double if you're in a place that's hostile to vegans. If you're a teen vegan, this is especially important, because your family may make you feel like you're stupid, or too young to know any better, or find any number of reasons to belittle you and your ideals. There are others out there like you, and they're just a few keystrokes away. We're here. Find us!
2. Start finding recipes that are already vegan to begin with. I haven't eaten cheese in well over five years. If I have a Daiya grilled cheese sandwich, it tastes and feels just like what I remember. Why? Because it's been a /very/ long time since I've had the stuff, and eating the stuff now reminds me of the experience enough that it's not going to be off-putting for me. The same thing goes for soy milk. I hadn't had dairy milk in a very long time by the time I tried soy milk, and found it to be satisfying. (For the record? Nowadays I find that I like the taste of Trader Joe's Almond Milk far more than any other nondairy milk for just drinking. I've heard the same from other folks.)
The point is, that if you look at this as a "OK, now I will be exploring all those things I'd ignored in the past", rather than "I can't have ____", you'll feel like you're on an adventure, rather than on some kind of great big self-denying, self-sacrificing, martyr thing. It becomes fun. Indian, Chinese, South American, African, and even some Eastern European cuisines all have excellent foods that are vegan to begin with. They also often involve ingredients that you can find relatively easily. If you can't find specific spices or ingredients, substitute! I've found that with cooking, it's easy enough to have some wiggle room, as long as you've got a bit of confidence in doing so.
This is why I suggest that you join those vegan forums and cooking websites. Ask questions! People are very eager to share what they know, and will be more than willing to guide you along the way.
3. Take food with you. I've gotten into the habit of taking food with me regardless of how long I anticipate the trip to be. Why? Because vegan food can get pricey, if you're not prepared. For example, if I were to go to a typical Falafel Hut on MacDougall, and snag myself a vegan falafel sandwich, I can pay about $2.50 for that. It's tasty, and reasonably filling. However, water costs another $1. We're at $3.50. For that same $3.50, I can buy an onion ($0.50/lb), some beans ($1/lb), some brown rice ($1/lb), and spices (I'd only need a few scant pinches of this and that), and put together an entire dinner for me and my husband, with leftovers. Mind you, it's nowhere near as fast as paying that $3.50, but it starts to add up rather quickly.
And the $3.50 is the best case scenario. Often times, while running around, the cheapest option is a bag of potato crisps (very unhealthy, very salty so I need more water) for about $1. But then, I'm hungry again fairly quickly. I'd sooner spend that same money, and buy some unsalted nuts, some seeds, some raisins, and toss them together as a sort of a trail mix. If you're feeling a bit more extravagant, throw in some dates, some almonds, some dried fruit of various sorts, and you've got yourself a much more nutritionally dense snack that will keep you moving.
If I am to stop somewhere and pick up individually wrapped snacks of some sort, I'll spend a fortune. If I buy the large packs at the store when they come on sale, I can wrap them up in my own little reusable containers, and not pay nearly as much.
Why do I mention this? Because often times, when I was a freshly minted vegan, I had trouble finding places that had something that I could eat. Then, on the way home, I'd feel hungry again, and feel tempted to stop somewhere and snag something. I'd think, "It's only a couple of bucks here and there", and think nothing of it. All of a sudden, I'd look at my expenses at the end of the month, and have a heart attack over how much I'd spent on random junk I bought outside. It was ridiculous! There was absolutely no reason for it either, because my house was always well stocked.
Even if it means that you buy some bread, some peanut butter, and some sandwich bags, packing a peanut butter sandwich is way cheaper than you'll ever spend on anything from outside your house. Throw on some banana, or strawberry, and you've got a serving of fruit, protein, and grain all in one. The point is that if you set yourself up for success, you'll find yourself keeping on top of your needs more, and you'll see your vegan lifestyle go much more easy than if you depend on the kindness of strangers.
Mind you, I say all this even though I live in New York City, where the local bodega has like three different brands of soy milk, and pretty close to /every/ restaurant you walk into will have vegan options. I just don't fancy spending that kind of money, or going hungry. You wouldn't like me when I'm hungry!

Three Favourite Resources
1. Vegweb.com is an excellent resource for anyone who's into cooking. It's where I learned to make my own bread. It's where I learned how to make pineapple upside down cake (that even the omnis were pleased with). It's an enormous repository of information.
2. Google. I'm serious. Type in "vegan _____ recipe", and see what happens. I've gotten to where I don't bother with cookery books so much anymore, because the Googles is so good at ferreting out good finds for me.
3. Bryanna Clark Grogan's Vegan Feast. This is like your aunt who's a mad vegan scientist. She has made recipes for so many things that I lost count. She's a complete genius when it comes to cooking, and making things work. Give her site a shot, and see what you find.

14 August 2011

Weekends in the woods

So I'm at my friend Denise's house on Friday night (fairly late too; traffic to her place was a little heavy), and decided to bang out a dinner. You know the usual suspects when you're hungry /now/ and need food five minutes ago: pasta, sauce, and dips. I did a hummus with lemon juice (from two lemons) and lemon zest (from one lemon). Then I threw in a handful of fresh basil, because it was there. The pasta was the farfalle. The sauce was a quick tomato-vodka-coconut cream sauce with lots of herbs and more fresh basil. I also did a white bean and rosemary dip. All of it came together in about 20 minutes.

However, it could have all gone horribly wrong, had I not been paying very close attention to the utter violence of her electric burners. Those suckers got hot and start to wend and weave their way through the pots, burning pretty much everything. Ack! Thank goodness that as soon as I realised it, I started easing back on the heat.

Why am I mentioning this?

Because you should firstly remember that the temperature dial is there on your stove for a reason. During the cooking process you will adjust it up or down, depending on how much power the food needs. Why? Because not all foods react in the same way in the pan. For this reason, it is quite sensible to keep a keen eye on your stove, regardless of where you are.

We ate the food late into the night, and chatted and had a great time. The next morning, on went a pot of potatoes to boil, and I showed Denise how to make the soy milk mayo. She was quite excited, and churned out a double batch that was ten kinds of perfect. In went some celery and 1/4 of a medium white onion, diced finely. Win.

That, along with the potato salad was our contribution to the Elise & Pat Hartmann potluck in NJ. A friend mentioned that every single one of their potlucks tends to have such awesome food. There's a good reason for that. Elise and her mother-in-law (Mimi) are goddesses when it comes to cranking out vegan awesome food after vegan awesome food.

I might have mentioned this before, but that is my ideal of what a potluck should be. The host provides the main meal, and makes enough so that everyone gets a crack at it, and can fill up. She makes sure that even if nobody brings anything, or of people bring stuff that's just ... unfortunate eating, there will still be plenty of food for all and sundry. She keeps the wine flowing, and the beer cooler filled.

A potluck is not (and should not be) "Cook for my party, because I'm providing the venue." That's when you get the lazy, or half-assed, or unfortunate stuff. It's when the hostess is thoughtful, and creates and actual party first, then lets her guests fill in the blanks with their own contributions that makes people bring their A game, and do only the most awesome stuff ever. And that, my friends, is exactly what happened. There was plenty of food to begin with, but with each new person walking in, the table just got more and more filled up. It was incredible!

A wonderful time was had by all, of course.

Now, when's the next one, Elise?

26 July 2011

How not to stay in business

I have ordered from here multiple times in the past. I order the same thing every single time: bean burrito, no cream, no cheese. Why? Can't have dairy. I have issues with dairy. I make sure to say no cream, no cheese, every single time, because it would be a disaster if I were to ingest any dairy.

I called for delivery today. Took the better part of 45 minutes to get here. Fine, whatever. The burritos arrive. All three have cheese. There are sides of sour cream. Mind you, in the past, they have always included sour cream, even though I make sure to ask for none at all. That's not a problem, because it's on the side, and I can just throw it out. This time, however, the cheese is on there.

I call the restaurant to report the issue. Lady says "You didn't ask for no cream or cheese." Uh yes I did. I ask for it every single time, every time I order, which has been multiple times. Lady insisted on being right. That's fine. You can pretend that you're right, but I'll never order from there again, and make sure to tell my friends never to order from them again. I know that the customer isn't always right, but it would be nice to be treated as if I'm not trying to lie or something. Just send the right order, and take back the messed up one.

Mistakes happen. It's OK. Just make it right, and I'm happy. They have forever lost a customer, and they've pissed me off that I'm going to make sure to tell everyone about it.

06 July 2011

Home again

I made it home safely a couple hours back. We ate dinner, and are settling in for bed.

My computer, phone, and ipod (in that order) remind me that today, I return from Chicago. And this, my friends, is what happens when we sync the living daylights out of everything.

28 June 2011


There's a couple of stories for this post, so please bear with me if you don't care for the more rambly of stories. There's the story of how I got to Chow, and the story about the $6 hero special.

It was a viciously slumpy month for us, and we hadn't had many people coming in. Neither of us could figure it out. The food was good. The people working here were friendly and kind. The wait times to get said food was reasonable. So what gives? This is about the time that we started getting aggressive calls from the deals websites, where you would offer X amount of food for 1/2 the amount of cost.

What they don't tell you is that the business only sees about 1/2 of what you paid for that voucher. The site offering the promotion keeps the other half. It's essentially like a loan, but with even worse rates than the worst loan shark ever. You're selling food for half the amount that it's worth, and then only seeing half of that money that you sold the voucher for. However, when you're in a tight spot, you start to consider those things feasible.

I reached a point of frustration, and said, "What about the folk who come here every day? If we're willing to sell our food for a fraction of what it's worth, and consider it promotion budget (advertising budget), then why can't we just offer the savings directly to the customers?" "Good point", he said. So we hatched the $6 hero deal. You get just the sandwich (no cheese, no Chow Slaw, no pickle. Which also means that the packaging is slashed by 75%, because now you just need to pack the sandwich in a piece of parchment paper, some foil, and a paper bag if the customer wants. With the regular heroes, it's the slaw, placed into a ramekin with its lid, the pickle, wrapped in foil, a fork, because you need something to eat the slaw with, and then the bag to carry that whole shebang with you. Yipes!

At the end of the day, it was cheaper for us too. And it made it so that people got to try our awesome sandwiches. And it meant that we could give people exactly what they wanted. It also meant that during our historically slow times (between 12 and 2), we could get more people to come in. The response was spectacular. People loved the fact that they could get a Kosher, vegan, organic sandwich for the cost of a couple of cups of coffee at certain national branded coffee chain. What's even better is that if you really did want the pickle or the slaw, you could request the stuff and pay a little extra, at your option.

So Cliff said, "It's like when you open up to the world with generosity, the universe brings it back to you."

It inspired us to really take a look at our menu, and look at the things that have gone down in cost, things that are easier to have made, because now everyone knows how to do them, and where we could offer lower prices and keep the "extras" on the side. We went through and pulled back the cost of a couple of the tapas, decreased the cost of the hero (now $10 instead of $12, and the cheese is $2 extra; so many people didn't get the cheese that it didn't seem fair to charge them for something they didn't want). We also decreased the cost of some of the desserts (cupcake, pound cake, etc).

Again, it was about opening up our arms, and letting folk know that we're thinking about them. Since we started getting a better price for our organic sugar and flour, we could afford to cut back the cost of those two things.

So now, a sandwich costs $10 (normal price), and a cupcake is $2.75. For a little more than what you used to pay for just a sandwich, you get a sandwich /and/ a dessert. And so now, people are actually ordering them way more frequently than they ever have before.

Which kind of brings me back to how I started working here in the first place.

It was back in November of 2007, and Steve and I had just moved to New York city. He had a job at the time, and was pulling in decent money. I didn't have to work, but I didn't want to faff about the house, doing nothing at all. However, I did love to cook (always had) and had a few copies of my cookery book with me. My Steve had let me know that a friend of a friend was working for NYU SEAL (an animal rights club), and they needed help with cooking for about 50 people, on a $50 budget.

In Manhattan.

Also, nobody could afford to do it from a restaurant, because they didn't have that kind of money.

Also, they wanted it vegan, and local, and seasonal.

Also, they couldn't afford to pay me.

I wasn't bothered about the money. I just love a challenge like that. I let Ashleigh (this was the person in charge of the food) that not only could we feed everyone who came, but we could feed them rice, beans, salad, and a vegetable dish, along with some kind of apple crisp. Yes, for less than the $50.

She was thrilled, and offered to buy me lunch at my favourite restaurant: Sacred Chow. Every time I came up to New York, I would jump in a Taxi and ask to be taken to Sacred Chow for at least one meal there. And at the end of each meal, I'd get a sinner bar. When Ashleigh offered to take me there, I jumped at the chance, so that the two of us could meet in person, and chatter away at each other about the food.

Apparently, she could offer a kitchen in one of the dorms nearby. It was fairly ill-equipped, but we'd have a lot of helpers. Also, the helpers had plenty of heart. I realise that this all sounds like a bad movie script, but it all really did happen.

You see, when you grow up poor, one of the things that you realise early on is that you can't always offer money to a cause, even though you may feel strongly about its goals. So you offer your time, your talents, and your heart. My mother was very good at this. Every week, when the Hindu temple in South Florida was a house that the community bought together, and filled with an altar and the things needed for a temple, my mother would pile us all into the car hours before the services started, loaded with food (at least a rice dish, and sometimes a rice dish and a vegetable dish), and all the kids. We'd get there very early, clean everything up, make it look presentable, and set out the floor mats for the people to come in and sit on. Then, we'd leave hours after everything was done.

Whatever the other people did or didn't think of it, whether or not they gave her any credit for it, whether they were jerks (and they were) or decent humans (rare, if ever) about freely asking my mother (who had a budget about 1/10 of what most of them worked with) for food (seriously), my mother was there every sunday, with large amounts of food. Why? Because she knew how to take a few dollars, and make them feed lots of people. I share that talent.

Ashleigh and I chatted for at least a couple of hours, in the empty restaurant.


Someone had slammed the door to the basement.


"You guys should NOT be eating here. The owner is a HORRIBLE man, and exploits his workers." (Side note: turns out she was stealing. How charming, right? The boss is a lovely man, for the record.)


She reached the door. She walked out, and slammed the outside door.

The outside door that has one of those hydraulic things that keeps it from slamming.

Made impotent by the uncaring door, the girl kicked the door with all her might, and stormed off. Ashleigh and I looked at each other in stunned silence, and burst out laughing. The waitperson apologised profusely for that particular little scene, and we both let her know that it was too funny /not/ to laugh at.

At the end of the meal, I approached the waitperson, and said, "OK, so it looks like you'll need a new worker."

She asked me to drop off my resume the next day.

The rest, as they say, is history.

What I'm getting at is that I was at the right place at the right time. I was there, because through some weird unconnected events, I was giving of my time and talents to a cause I believed in. They didn't have much money, and had to feed many people on very little money. The food turned out fantastic. Everyone was very impressed that we managed it for such a small amount of money.

Fast forward to a year or two later. Ashleigh called me to place an order for catering from Chow for her SEAL organisation.

I met my darling husband, because I was sitting in a vegan chat room a few years back, and sharing my cooking techniques with people. They would say, "Dino, I've got ____, ____, and ___, and I'm hungry now. Can you tell me what to do with that?" And I would. I'd give them about five or six different options for the stuff they had around the house. Then they'd come back in 30 minutes, and rave about how the food was so good.

Later, when I needed a vegan wallet, and mentioned it in passing (because carrying the leather one was making me a little ill whenever I thought of where it came from), Steve piped up and let me know that he makes wallets, and that he'd be sending me one, for free, "... because you help so many people out in so many ways, and I'm happy to do this for you."

Five years later, that gesture of kindness turned into a marriage that's given me more love and happiness than I could have ever imagined possible. And now that it's legal for us to get married, we've booked the Judson church, where Steve proposed to me (again) on Pride Sunday to ask me to officially marry him.

I said yes.