Monday, December 17, 2007

Split pea soup

I improvised some split pea soup tonight, and it came out pretty well. I boiled, then simmered the split peas for a half hour or so, and then sauteed minced shallots and ginger and mixed them in. When the peas were pretty soft, I mixed in some nutritional yeast and cashew butter to thicken it up a bit, which didn't help with that but it tasted nice. I finished it off with salt and pepper.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Butternut Squash Spice Cake

So...this recipe was in the Nov. 14 CSA newsletter that comes with our box of veggies. My parents came over here for lunch today and I made it for them. It's really good!

1 small butternut squash
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, place both halves face down on a baking tray, and bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes. Let it cool, then scoop out the cooked squash from the peel and mash it with a fork. Reserve one cup of the squash for the cake, the rest is extra.

Preheat or turn down oven to 325. Butter an 8x8 baking pan. In a small bowl, combine flour, allspice, baking powder, salt, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together with a mixer until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat for 30 seconds after each one. Stir in vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and the squah to the large bowl and mix well. Pour batter into the baking pan and bake at 325 for 45-50 minutes. Top with whipped cream or powdered sugar...we had fresh raspberries from the farmer's market with this!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Holiday stuffs

Nothing surprising here. Stuffed acorn squash much like last time, but substituting replacing the channa masala spice blend with basil, oregano, and sage from the garden. It was a hit at the party we went to! Today I'm making another veggie pie/tortiere with onion, carrot, fennel, and those same garden fresh herbs sauteed together. At the end, I added cashew butter and nutritional yeast to try to make it gooify, as a "problem" with this type of dish is that it tends to fall apart when serving. This stuff lined the bottom of the pan, with a middle layer of cooked green lentils and black beans and topped with mashed potatoes from yesterday. I smeared on a bit of olive oil in hopes that the top will brown a bit.

As for the fennel, I used both the bulb and one of the stalks, which took on a surprisingly different flavor once sauteed. I think this will be one of my best dishes yet.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Today's meal is a pretty nice one. I began by cooking some split chickpeas until they had softened up some. I then added water, a halved lemon, cinnamon stick, and a few chunks of star anise for seasoning. I put in some chopped standard and romanesca cauliflower, followed by chard, basil, and sage chopped fresh from the garden.

I then let it cook a while longer until the chickpeas were soft, and called it done. No oil, no salt, no powdered spices or anything. The result is a pretty tasty stew with a lot of flavor and zest to it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

another veggie pie/tortiere

This time I sauteed some thinly sliced onions and celery with herbs, then thinly sliced potatoes and sunchokes. I layered those in the pan, added a can each of kidneys, pintos, and corn, then covered it in baked squash and baked it all for 30 minutes. I've made this kind of thing lots of times, but this is definitely the best.

Monday, October 29, 2007

stuffed squash

Tonight's dinner was one of those "what can I make with what I have in the kitchen?" creations. It began with baking a squash of unknown variety. Then I decided to stuff the squash, so I had to see what I had. I ended up making a goo of:

  • margarine
  • channa masala spices
  • red onion
  • minced kale
  • cashew butter
  • chopped almonds
  • raisins
  • orange blossom honey
  • salt
  • nutritional yeast
  • water
Sounds bizarre, perhaps, but I incorporated some ideas from some past squash stuffings and followed my taste buds, and it came out well. The last steps were to add cashew butter and nutritional yeast, then stir in water little by little until it took on kindof a creamy consistency.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Reinterpreting the title of this blog

So...I've decided that this blog title could just as easily apply to gardening as it could to the process of eating. Seeds go down, food comes up. Usually. I haven't had much success this year...herbs were good, but the grand total of the other produce is 1 squash, 10 tiny tomatoes, and 4 bell peppers that are still ripening, so anything could happen. Not really something you can live on for very long. I took a class at Common Ground Garden Center in Palo Alto on Saturday (we rode our bikes! yay!) on double-digging. Double-digging involves preparing the soil down to 24 inches if possible and is the first step in the Grow Biointensive method of farming. The end goal is to improve the health of the soil by putting in more nourishment than you take out of it: no chemical fertilizers, of course, and a good steady diet of compost geared to the pH needs of your particular patch of land. Sustainability, plus a little bit more...It's complicated and somewhat time-consuming but I think this is the way I want to go as far as gardening.

Something different

I baked a couple of acorn squashes tonight for dinner, and reheated some mashed potatoes (made in a fairly normal way, but w/ almond milk instead of regular). We also had a bunch of green and white beans, so I sauteed those in a cast iron skillet with olive oil, minced onion, marinated tofu from the farmer's market, salt, pepper, and sesame seeds. I've done this kind of thing before and the beans never came out right, but this time I periodically deglazed the skillet with water and and put a lid over the top so the beans would get steamed. It worked well and I was pleased with how they came out.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Thai curry again

I'll spare the details, other than to say I finally got galangal and lemongrass, albeit in jarred format. It is much improved, but I have found that the peppers are not hot enough and the
food processor doesn't grind the paste into, well, paste. The other thing, probably more important, is that commercial thai curry pastes and other recipes I've seen online often contain shrimp paste, and I am wondering if that's the next "magic" missing ingredient. Not that I'm going to put shrimp paste in, but perhaps I can find something with similar qualities (perhaps just a bit more salt? Would miso do it? Hmm..) to fill its void.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thai curry

I've never really been satisfied with my thai curry... The first time I made it, years ago, I made it from green curry paste and it was quite good, but I've never really gotten it back up to that level yet. I think it's because I got lured in by curry powder, and then later started making my own spice blends, which basically amounted to curry powder anyway. Curry powder doesn't really taste like thai curry.

Using some thai curry paste recipes for inspiration, I set out to cook some of the remaining veggies I had into a tasty dish. At this I succeeded, although it is not quite there yet... I place the blame squarely on my inability to find galangal. I will have to track some down for next time. You can substitute in ginger, but it's not the same. Also, I am not going to put shrimp/anchovy/etc paste or fish sauce into it. Or garlic, for that matter, as I think I am somewhat allergic to it. Maybe I should put in some salt to make up for the lack of these things.

I rode my bike to the market this morning and picked up some tofu, ginger, and coconut milk. Whilst boiling the tofu (cut into triangles) for texture, I threw some red chilis in the food processor with ginger, lemongrass (dried, sadly), cumin, coriander, paprika, and cayenne. In spite of the skin-burning capsaisin in the chilis, they are not all that hot, and I didn't use enough cayenne to make it really hot, although I tried. Anyway, I blended that all up into a paste and sauteed it for a bit, then added onions, carrots, and water, and cooked until the onions went translucent. Then I added two cans of coconut milk, a pile of chopped bell peppers, and the tofu. At this point, I whipped up some more curry paste, because it clearly wasn't enough. I don't think there's an exact science to the proportion, but a basic guideline I can use in the future is two chilis per can of coconut milk.

I'm eating it with some jasmine rice, and enjoying it a lot. It's still not quite right, but it's the closest I've gotten in a long time. Something that worked well once in the past was to deglaze at one point with a cup or so of crisp white whine (like chardonnay) and add in some brown sugar. I think it really needs galangal and fresh lemongrass to really sparkle.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

indianish food again

We got another box from the CSA the other day... It took me a while to work up the inspiration to prepare some food, but it turned out pretty well. I sauteed some some usual-suspect spices in ghee (almost gone now) and threw in a few chopped onions and the whey from my soy-yogurt cheese experiment. To this, I added chopped potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, and some frozen peas. Eventually I added more water and then a bit of peanut butter and nutritional yeast to thicken it up. I have to admit that it's not immensely flavorful in spite of having a more salt and cayenne in it than I normally would put, but it is pretty good and has a nice texture to it. Panir or lemon-marinated tofu would have been a nice addition. We're eating it over rice.

Yogurt cheese? Yogurt cheese. I made some soy yogurt as I often do, and am straining it in a sieve lined with cheese cloth. I think that for the full effect, it would need to sit for a few days, but it thickened up pretty well. After I finish dinner, I'm going to mix in some sugar, saffron, and cardamom and serve it as dessert.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

CSA, curry, salsa

Haven't posted in a long time... Did anyone notice? A lot has happened in the time since I was posting more frequently. I have been riding my bike a lot and have lost a pretty good amount of weight... About 25 pounds so far, give or take. I bid farewell to my 6 wisdom teeth, and so far I am happy that they are gone. We just ditched Planet Organics and are trying out a CSA called Two Small Farms. They sent us corn, beautiful heirloom tomatoes, tomatillos, sweet red peppers (HOT), strawberrys, red onions, and spinach. Possibly some other stuff but that's what I remember.

The problem with PO was that most of the time, the food (supposedly picked less than 24 hours before delivery) was already spoiling, and the stuff that wasn't was going to soon. We couldn't just eat all the food in one day, so our interest in PO kinda waned and we ended up wasting food every week, which made us unhappy. It looks like the weekly portion from TSF will be a better size, and so far I am more impressed with the quantity. Also, we like the idea that we're supporting a few local farms. With PO, it was supposedly all local, but, well, that proved to be the case much less of the time than we'd hoped. Oh well. They're a good business and they try hard, I think, but perhaps they have moved in a direction that is not in line with our interest.

Anyway, tonight I made a curry with corn and potatoes. Boiled those both first. I sauteed onions, garam masala, star anise, and a cinnamon stick for a while cutting the corn off the cobs, occasionally adding water to the pot to soften and meld it all together. I used ghee, btw, mostly because I've got some I want to use up. I do like it's flavor, but I'm happy enough to just use olive oil, even when most people say its flavor is too distinct for a given recipe.

Anyway, I added the potatoes and corn to the pot and a few cups of water, and put it on about medium heat. I added a chopped red pepper (which is currently burning my thumb), some peanut butter, and some almond milk, and then let it simmer for about 20 minutes. It was pretty liquidy at that point, but after letting it sit for a while, whilst I made the salsa and assembled burritos from preexisting parts, it had thickened up to a nice consistency. I'm looking forward to eating it, although sadly I haven't been very hungry today and still am not*.

For the salsa, I just chopped and blended all the tomatillos, one onion, one heirloom tomato, and two chili peppers, which may have turned out to be too much. I added a bit of water to help with the blending but I think that was the wrong thing to do. It could be that simmering this whole mixture would be good, but I'm not planning to try it now... Just an idea for next time. Although I may try it, given that I can barely eat it as it is, due to its heat.

*Note: there is, however, a root beer float in my near future.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I don't know what to call it.

For tonight's dinner, I sauteed a variety of summer squashes with dill and basil, steamed some spinach, and pureed it all with some tahini. The inspiration was a mixture of baba ganoush and palak panir, and it came out very well. I served it over rice.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Sweet english peas

We got a whole bunch of these in our Planet Organics deliveries the past two weeks, and I wanted to use them before they went bad, even though I didn't know what to do with them. I ended up more or less following this recipe except I used non-dairy buttery stuff instead of butter and orange blossom honey instead of sugar. The mint came from our garden. I was ready to put the peas on the "do not send" list, because they seemed like they'd be too much work, but shelling them wasn't hard or even as slow as I expected, cooking them was easy, and they're much better than the usual frozen peas I've had.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Some meals I prepared this week

Last night I made a few dishes inspired by the gujarati cuisine at Kokila's Kitchen in Cupertino. The main dish consisted of many little potatoes boiled until soft, then simmered for a half hour or so with onion, cauliflower, mustard seeds, cinnamon sticks, star anise, fresh mint, turmeric, coriander, asfoetida, a bit of salt, and a splash of wine. On the side, we had green beans sauteed in similar spices, minus the mustard seeds and add cayenne.

I was planning to make Palak Paneer tomorrow, but I was bored this evening and it occurred to me that we always say "boy, that curry tasted better the second day, after it had some time to meld." So, I went ahead and made palak paneer this evening. I used more spinach than I normally do, steamed it until wilted and then blended it rather than chopping it as usual. I sauteed the paneer (in the future I may generally use tofu, but we already had the paneer) in the cast iron skillet and some spices in the big pot for the palak... Let's see, I used curry leaves, cinnamon sticks, garam masala, turmeric, asfoetida, cayenne, and a bit of salt. I added the blended spinach back and let the whole thing simmer for about an hour, adding the paneer in part way. Usually I'd add yogurt, but this time I don't think it really needs it. I will leave that until serving time tomorrow night, because it did come out a bit on the spicey side and my wife (yes, wife! I said it again!) might like the yogurt to cut the spice a bit.

The texture is definitely a lot more like what I'd find in a restaurant... I guess the blender does work better than knife for this.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Bike fuel

I've recently started commuting on bicycle again after a two or three year hiatus. The new commute is 12 miles each way instead of 3, but back then I used to take a 30 mile detour two or three times a week. I've noticed a big change since I was 24, which is that I can't just have a sip of water, go ride 30 miles, and be ready for a nice lunch... Now I actually seem to require some kind of sustenance before I go!

For the most part, I have been making smoothies for my morning fuel (supplemented by a double-shot of espresso a third of the way into the ride). The base is banana, soy yogurt, cashew butter, soy or almond milk, and cocoa powder from Trader Joes. The last two days, I have also thrown in an apple, and ended up with a very thick, pudding-like smoothie which tastes great and keeps me going through the bike ride all the way until lunchtime.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

chocolate tofu pie

I made a chocolate tofu pie the other day to serve at a party on Friday. I started with a store bought graham cracker crust, two bricks of silken tofu, and a bar of baking chocolate. I melted the chocolate and then blended it with the tofu. At that point, it wasn't chocolatey enough, so I added some cocoa powder and kept blending until it was smooth. Then I filled the crust and stuck it in the refrigerator.

It came out tasting great, but it was more pudding-like than I'd hoped. Actually, it'd make a fantastic pudding, but I was trying to make pie. I either need to put something in to thicken it up, or (as a friend suggested) try a different brand of tofu which may have a lower water content.

Also, next time I will go with my original gut (ha ha) instinct and get an extra bar of chocolate, in case the one is not enough for the amount of tofu.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Tonight's adventures: burritos & muffins

First, I made stuff to put in burritos... Leftover brown rice, a rinsed can of pinto beans, salsa, and "sour cream uncheez sauce," which basically consists of cashew butter, fresh lemon juice, and a touch of nutritional yeast. This mixture really hit the spot for me.

Unfortunately, the tortillas were a flat out (ha ha) disaster. I think I got the dough to the right consistency, but the recipe (basically 2 to 1 and a bit masa harina and water) said to roll them out between two sheets of wax paper, and I found it to be nearly impossible to transfer them from the wax paper to the skillet without them falling apart. I got ONE good one, which of course wasn't really ideal for a burrito anyway, because it was too crispy. I might try this again to make gorditas or crispy tacos, but it really didn't work for the burritos, so I guess I will have to get some store-bought flour tortillas to finish the burritos... It's too bad, because I was hoping to share them with a gluten-allergic friend.

I made some muffins, too, partly because I was annoyed at my defeat at the hands of the tortillas. Roughly 2 cups of flour, all purpose, brown rice, and almond, in some reasonable proportion favoring the first two, combined with some cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder and soda, all vaguely like a recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance. I put a banana, some soy yogurt, soy milk, oil, and cashew butter in the blender and pureed it, and then stirred all that in to the batter. Filled the muffin cups and baked for 20 minutes at 400 and they came out quite nice... A little on the dense side, but tasty... I couldn't bring myself to use as much sugar as the recipe called for, so they're not as sweet as they could be, but I think with the banana and the cocoa they have a very good flavor. They stick to the muffin cups a bit too much; I'm not sure what to do about that.

I will probably edit this in the future and put in some links, but for now I'm off to bed. Tomorrow morning I plan to ride my bike at least part of the way to work, for the first time in a long time. It's an awful long and dangerous commute entirely by bike (15 miles each way, give or take) but I am excited about it... I need the exercise, I miss riding, and I will be burning less gasoline.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


I felt really inspired tonight; I had some leftover squash and I wanted to make a dosa to have with it. I used a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's book as a guide and it turned out pretty well, although not flawlessly, as I attemped to flip it too soon and it sortof fell apart... But it wasn't yet cooked enough that I couldn't stick it back together!

I combined equal parts all purpose flour, brown rice flour, yogurt, grated coconut, and water with a bit of salt in the food processor, toasted some mustard seeds and then blended it all again. I spread it around in my cast iron skillet and (should have) let it cook about 5-7 minutes over a medium flame, flip it and cook probably 3 or 4 more minutes.

When it was done, I folded it in half over the squash and ate it with some yogurt on the side. That's it! This one was a knockout success in the flavor department, and I'm anxious to make it again.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Pancakes, Pupusas, Soup

Quick post:

Saturday morning, I made pancakes for breakfast. Whole wheat flour, brown rice flour, baking powder, soymilk, vanilla extract. Awesome! Angeline chopped up mango and banana for the topping.

Made pupusas using masa harina and loosely following this recipe. For the filling, I made refried black beans and mixed them with leftover cooked acorn squash. Again, I felt it was lacking something, although the bean/squash mixture is extremely tasty on its own. I think cheese was the missing ingredient, so maybe I will try again in a few weeks and make an interesting sounding uncheese.

Finally, I made some soup. I boiled asparagus, broccoli, and chives until soft in broth with thyme and marjoram. Pureed that and set it aside, and made a roux with brown rice flour and olive oil, added almond milk and then mixed the puree back in. I thought it was too sweet at this point, because of the almond milk, so I added a bit of salt, more spices, and some basil. It was nice, a sweetish soup with an herbal finish to it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Inspired by a recent post in Vegan Lunch Box, I modified the banana flop idea into pseudo pupusas. I made a batter of corn meal, chickpea and brown rice flours, baking powder, and soymilk and made a thick pancake-like object. Before flipping them, I put (previously cooked) sweet potato and mango on top and layered on more batter.

I'll be honest, it needs something. Salsa? Cheese? Spices? I'm really not sure, probably any of them would have done the trick. In spite of the sweet potato and mango, it came out a bit on the bland side. Actually, bland's not the right word. The flavor was good, it just needed to feature something.

Still, it was a worthy experiment. I'll be attempting it again at some point, but probably not before I try to make a more authentic version.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Risotto Rules!

Tonight I plan to use some of the great asparagus we received to make risotto. As a reminder to myself, I used this article from Arbor Food as my guide last time I made risotto and I was thrilled with the outcome.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I'm back! With broccoli!

I just made cream of broccoli soup, following the gist of a recipe from Savvy Vegetarian. I boiled the broccoli and some herbs in 4 cups of stock until it softened, and then pureed it. Then I made a roux with olive oil, brown rice flour, a bit of nutritional yeast, and almond milk. There wasn't enough of that, so I had to resort to regular milk to finish off the sauce. Then I stirred the puree back in, added salt & pepper to taste, and called it done. Verdict: delicious. And another mysterious food has become ... less mysterious.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Rice pudding

We're going away for a week, and I decided to try to use up the leftovers & whatnot in the fridge. On Monday night, I made rice pudding from some leftover brown rice. I put 2:1 rice-to-soymilk or so on the stove with a little bit of buttery stuff, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom, and let it simmer for for a while. A little brown sugar is nice, too.

I don't have exact proportions for this; I just cook it longer or add more liquid until the consistency comes out more or less like you'd find at an Indian restaurant.

Acorn squash, yogurt

Last night before bed, I baked an acorn squash for today's lunch. Split it in half, put it on a baking sheet, and bake for 45 minutes at 350. I brought some yogurt into which I stirred some channa masala spice blend, and dipped spoonfuls of squash into it. It was awesome!

The yogurt I brought today was Trader Joe's goat milk yogurt, which tastes OK but is another American style custardy pectin-y yogurt, which really doesn't do it for me. My commercial yogurt of choice is Pavel's Russian Style yogurt, but they didn't have it this time for some reason.

For a few months last year, I was making my own soy yogurt, and I plan to get into that again. I tried recently using Almond Breeze almond milk, but I wasn't happy with the result... Rather than a jar of yogurt, I ended up with a jar of water with yogurt-like pellets floating in it. It actually tasted OK, but was rather repulsive.

My quicky method for making soy yogurt:
  1. Fill a clean, sterile jar with soy milk and microwave for two minutes
  2. Let cool until luke warm
  3. Stir in a spoonful or two of starter
  4. Put lid on jar
  5. Store in warm place for a few hours, then refrigerate.
Often I'd warm the oven to just over 100 degrees, turn it off, and leave the jar in there overnight. It seems to set more quickly and has a firmer texture if the temperature is higher, but beware of killing the cultures with too high a temperature.

That's all it takes... Maybe about two minutes of actual effort. My starter was Pavel's the first time, and from then on I'd reserve the bit at the bottom of the jar to start the next batch. Using Trader Joe's unsweetened soymilk, it produced a consistently good yogurt which tasted like Pavel's but was much easier on my stomach than any dairy product ever is.

Initially I followed the method from Vegan On A Shoestring then I relaxed&simplified my method a bit after reading Madhur Jaffrey's book.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Experimenting in the kitchen 2

"If you understand your painting beforehand, you may as well not paint it at all." - Salvador Dali

Monday, February 26, 2007

Guacamole and belgian endive "chips"

Tonight's (light) dinner is guacamole and belgian endive "chips." I've never had endive before, and I like it more than I expected... Which is good, because I have two more to figure out how to use the remainder. Angeline was in a hurry to get somewhere, so I pre-scooped guac into the endive leaves and poked them into the bowl going around the edges from tallest to smallest. It made for a nice presentation.

Fill-to lines; cooking in bulk; chinese food

Conceptually, I like the idea of making a big pot of something to eat throughout the week, from a convenience point of view. But I reach a point where I just can't take it anymore. No matter how much I like the thing that I made, after my 4th or 5th helping of it throughout the week, I am desperate for something new. I joked recently that I should draw "fill to" lines on our pots so I don't make too much of one thing.

So, how to deal with this? If I don't have materials to prepare lunch for the day in 5 minutes or so, I will often just skip it and go out to lunch. I do so much less often than I used to, but it's still not ideal. I'm sick of mysterious food. I want to know what goes into my food!

Well, I have a few ideas.

One, a friend of ours is a brown rice fanatic and will often cook thw whole of it at once and then freeze it in meal-portion-sized zip-locks so it is readily available every day. Rice is a good staple ingredient, because it's healthy, filling, and it goes well with most things.

Two, well, I have long been anti-chinesefood. The reason is that most chinese food you get at restaurants consists of slimey, oily glops of homogenous food. Even when I ate meat, I didn't like the fact that most chicken dishes (for example) at chinese restaurants would be NOTHING but chicken in slime. Deep-fried chicken, at that. Most of the time you couldn't even get a floret of broccoli with it. On the other hand, I work (and lunch) with many chinese people, and what I've noticed is that their food is almost always a nice portion of rice topped with equal small portions of meat and vegetables. I'm sure there's some sauce, but I've never seen the kind of oil slick that comes on most restaurant-bought chinese food, and I've never seen any of it deep-fried. I'm getting the feeling that what you find at most chinese restaurants is a very americanized version of the cuisine.

So, the idea I'm getting from this is to prepare rice as above, and then cook (or not cook) our weekly shipments of food in several dishes that are either one or two ingredients, rather than trying to turn it into one or two large dishes. Lunch ends up being a portion of rice and a selection from two to four options, plus some raw fruit and veggies. It can probably all be done in the same time it takes to make the big dishes, and the result is a more diverse menu throughout the week which can be quickly gathered before heading out in the morning.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Idealized food has an interestingly look at the top ten "Good foods gone bad." A common theme, paraphrased, is the American food industry's attempts to idealize most things into a variation on cake (cereal, bread, etc) or frosting (like our custardy, gelatinous yogurts) because, well, everyone wants everything to taste good, and I guess sweet is an easy form of "good" as far as flavors go. Just add high fructose corn syrup.

I think the fact that even we Americans don't subsist on Twinkies alone should be a hint that sweet, sweet cake and cream are not everything to everyone. Maybe we could give SOME of the sugars and preservatives a miss?

Whole Foods

I used to shop at Whole Foods a lot, mostly because at the time they seemed to be the best option for organic and/or unusual foods. Well, I take that back, they were after the little mom&pop health food store a half mile away was competed out of business by the mega WF.

More recently, I have generally avoided them, or gone just for specific ingredients that I can't find elsewhere or need to have soon. I really do appreciate the variety they offer and the quality of the products, but I just can't get over their pretentiousness. In reality, they are a large corporation packaging and selling components of a (allegedly, at least) healthy lifestyle at high prices to make as big a profit for their shareholders as possible. No matter what principals they were founded upon, as a publicly traded company, that is their goal.

In my estimation, they are in many ways they are a big step above, say, Safeway, but I don't expect it to last. The last few times I've been there, I've encountered the same hyperartificial politeness from their employees that says nothing but, "I really don't want to be here, but I have to be nice to you because it's company policy." This is all in stark contrast to my (former) neighborhood market, Cosentinos. They offer superb quality, reasonable (though not bargain) prices, and employees who seem to genuinely enjoy taking care of their customers' needs. I wish I still lived close to them, because I really felt like they were committed the wellbeing of the community.

When shopping at Whole Foods, I feel the same way I do when shopping at a place like Walmart (which, thankfully, has not happened in years) or Starbucks, who also claim to contribute to the local community.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Experimenting in the kitchen

Something in Season has an interesting post about how to experiment with recipes. A lot of his advice centers around following recipes carefully, which helps learn to predict how things will go, I suppose. It's interesting to me because it's pretty much opposite from my philosophy... I personally follow the "banana flop philosophy" by Helium (aka God around Hippycore HQ) in my favorite cookbook, Soy, Not Oi!, although ironically(?) I have yet to make the banana flop recipe.
So what kind of a vegan are you, having to read a book to cook or prepare food! You are a pitiful person. You have been socialized. You think that 1/2 cup less of this or 1/2 cup more of that will render your dish inedible. You think that a written recipe is the optimum balance of the ingredients... you are bummed. [The banana flop recipe does not include exact measurements, temperatures, times, etc]

Natural foods have the wonderful property of being able to be blended with each other in any manner or proportion and still always give a minimum total nutritional value equal to the sum of their parts, so nutritionally speaking you can't go wrong. Different combinations will bring different tastes and different textures; a wonderful array of tastebud experiences that will bring you joyful, romantic, painful, funny, gratifying, and humiliating memories... the merging of the soul and the pallet.

So my friend, break free from the rigid limit of your food habits and turn your kitchen into a playground of creativity... Welcome to the BANANA FLOP philosophy!

Since reading this, I have rarely worked from recipes unless it's something mysterious, like NYC, a grain-to-liquid ratio, something Chinese, or ... anything that's to be baked. I'm also generally pretty happy with how my cooking turns out.

In my case, I USED to rigidly follow recipes, and eventually came to the conclusion that cooking doesn't have to be an exact science. Sure, there are some things that can easily be over- or undercooked, but most things provide leeway in terms of cooking time, ingredients, etc. A friend came over a while back with a semi-improvised persimmon bread which included several whole grains (and was quite awesome, in my opinion!)... I think the key to success is to combine flavors you like, and if any are especially distinctive, don't feature more than one.

Update 2/18/2007: Inspired from writing this post, I made the banana flops this morning. Everyone should have a copy of Soy, Not Oi!

Friday, February 16, 2007


You'd think that after not one, but TWO, outbreaks of salmonella in a week, someone would realize that there's something wrong with processing food in giant batches using machines. ConAgra Foods recalled peanut butter, and Dole recalled canteloupes. We're going to the Farmer's Market in Mountain View this weekend and I'm really glad!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Growing food in small spaces

Here's an idea for growing salad greens and other vegetables even if you have poor soil or your driveway is the only place that gets good sunlight.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tree tea?

This is dredged up from memories of the people who lived in tipis up in Northern Michigan, that I was hanging out with about 10-11 years ago. PINE NEEDLE TEA is a terrific source of Vitamin C. All you need is a handful of pine needles (the long skinny ones: evergreens with short brushy needles like redwood and hemlock are NOT good for you!) and some hot water. Twist or crush the pine needles, or you can chop them up, pour the hot water over them, wait a few minutes, and drink. It's pretty good. Here's more information on living off pine trees.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More NYC

I went to Good Karma again tonight, but they didn't have the mac & "cheese" because they weren't pleased without how it came out last time. I encouraged them to keep working on it, because frankly, if someone had told me I'd enjoy eating a bunch of yeasty goo, I'd have told them they were crazy, but I trusted the GK folks and I thought it was great. I told them I'd made some of said goo and put it on potatoes, and it was really nice.

One of them recommended using kamut flour for making hearty cookies or other floury things. I have never knowingly had kamut, so I'm curious. I have some friends who are allergic to gluten, and I have tasted pancakes and birthday cakes prepared by/for them with alternative flours, and so far have been very impressed. As far as I know, I'm only allergic to papaya and cats, but why make everything with the same old bleached white flour? I always have my favorites, but I really enjoy variety occasionally going through phases where I explore different cuisines, unfamiliar veggies, almond milk instead of soy, etc.

I admit I'm still dumbfounded by my meat-eating friends who can't bear to eat a meal that didn't have meat in it. Their diets are often based around 3-5 varieties of meat, prepared in two or three different ways, with insignificant amounts of anything else. BORING!


Fingerlings potatoes have been some of my favorites ever since I used to get them at my local farmers' market and roast them with some carrots and whatever else looked good. I used to walk or bike to the market, but alas that's not really possible where I live now. We got some organic "russian banana" fingerling potatoes in our last Planet Organics shipment and a bundle of herbs (mostly rosemary and time), so I smeared some olive oil on the potatoes, sprinkled on a bit of salt and pepper, put the herbs on top and roasted it all for 20 minutes at about 500 degrees.

The smoke detector went off! It must have been the high heat because it wasn't really smoking, that I could see.

Food as activism

Here's my inaugural post: this was previously posted to Livejournal and is cross-posted here to illustrate what's been on my mind lately.

The day after we came back from the holiday excursion to Tulsa, OK and Pittsburgh, PA, we stopped at Barefoot and William noticed a new book on their reading shelf, "The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved". Having some time to kill, I picked it up and glanced at the first chapter. Then I settled down for a serious read. When we left, I insisted on going to Barnes and Noble to buy my own copy (note: I do not buy books, generally. I borrow, trade, and use up credit at Book Buyers, but I rarely BUY A BOOK). And I read it. Twice.

And now I have A CAUSE. But, it's a cause that does not divide into red states and blue states, or Bible Belt vs. Islam, or whatever else is out there to argue about. Who can argue with food? We all need it. We all prefer good food to bad food. Plus, in my humble experience, the best representatives of A CAUSE are those who simply do it, without talking about how great they are and how wrong the rest of us are. So. I hereby speak up for good food. Take it or leave it.

However, since even the Bush Administration has just grudgingly admitted that there may well be something to this global warming...'scuse me..."Climate Change"...claptrap, good food may not be available for much longer. I doubt that the American public at large will willingly give up all their comforts: cut down on driving and air travel, buy less plastic, eat less meat, use less lumber, waste less water, dump less chemicals, go without heat or A/C. Etc. Water is running out. Fossil fuels, which drive energy production, which support the vast commercial food conglomerates that convert corn into beef, are running out. Cropland is running out.

So, vat-grown food? Hydroponics? Soylent Green...? The possibilities are, presumably, endless. However, there is one thing that one person can do to take on The Man here: Grow your own food. So, since I will most likely be relocating to Oklahoma later this year, the home of my dad and his fishing buddy and their 1-acre vegetable garden just outside Tulsa, I'll be spending a lot of time there learning to grow my own organic produce. Because I don't want to be sitting around when I'm 65 or so telling the neighborhood kids about when I was their age, we had REAL food.

mysterious root veggie pt 2

I think it's some sort of radish thing. I peeled it and took a bite, and while I was temporarily overcome with horror at that "you really don't want to eat this" radish smell, I actually ended up liking it. Like most vegetables, I would have totally dreaded this thing as a kid, but now I'm able to get over the unpleasant stinky first impression and appreciate it as a very different flavor from the norm. I suspect this would be interesting grated and mixed into a salad or used in a sandwich as one might use a pickle or onion. It was surprisingly spicey, in a way similar to raw garlic, but more intense.

Update: It was a Black Spanish Radish.

Monday, February 12, 2007

mysterious root veggie

mysterious root veggie
Originally uploaded by wbajzek.
I signed up for Planet Organics a few weeks ago and so far have been very happy with it. The mid-size box is about the right size for us, assuming we are preparing a reasonable amount of food at home. I do think that the produce costs more than if I were to just buy it at the local produce market, AND we've actually been eating out MORE, but our overall food spending is way down because I have been trying to figure out what to do with all of this food that arrives each week. I have more home-cooked lunches at work, healthier meals at home, fruit smoothies for breakfast, and when I do have meals out, they feel a bit more special than when they are no longer then norm.

It's been pretty successful so far. However, they do throw me occasional curve balls. There was no itemized receipt in our last shipment, and they sent me this thing. Does anybody know what it is or what to do with it? Not me. But I am determined to find out.

I <3 NYC

A week ago I had "macaroni and cheese" at Good Karma Vegan Cafe in downtown San Jose (plug - it's one of my favorite restaurants and I've made a weekly routine of going). The "cheese" was made of this mysterious nutritional yeast stuff I have heard much about but never encountered. My impression was that it tasted somewhat like cheese, perhaps a bit more like gravy, with maybe a hint of peanut butter. Weird? Yeah, but lately I have been interested in weird vegan foods.

As luck would have it, I needed to pick up some stuff at Whole Foods, and they had nutritional yeast in the bulk bins, so I bought a bunch. Angeline has been requesting "breakfast for dinner" for the last few days and had even pre-cooked some cubed russet potatoes for this purpose. So, for dinner tonight, I made eggs and potatoes for dinner, and for my taters I made a batch of NYC.

I used 1 part NY flakes, 1 part flour, and 2 parts water, plus a bit of margarine and salt. I whisked it over a low flame until it took on a velveeta-esque texture, and poured it on the taters. This was not exactly how the guy at Good Karma said they made theirs, but it tasted almost exactly the same to me... I suppose that's mostly due to the NY's flavor.

Conclusion? I liked it so much that I wanted to lick the pot clean. But, I'm weird. Angeline said she could see why it would be used for gravy (which she generally doesn't like) and didn't feel inclined to comment any further on the subject...