Thursday, September 15, 2011

Struggles and Reflections in September

Am I the worst vegan blogger ever or WHAT?!

I know.

When we lived in Okinawa, my schedule was such that I found all kinds of time for blogging.  I also had friends living right there with me who loved to cook and encouraged me to do it.  Here in Ireland, I have been ill more than is usual for me.  I've been sick with something or other more than half the time we've been here. I don't know if it's the air or the climate or just that I have a particular susceptibility to the germs and pollen here.  Whatever it is, I fell out of the habit of sharing my cooking with you all.  I have been meaning to do a kale blog for over a year now, and I promise I will eventually get around to it.  Kale has become an ingredient in almost everything I cook, and its versatility and nutritional benefits are just seemingly endless.

The tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attack just came and passed.  I spent it alone at home while Ashley stood post at the American embassy here in Dublin.  The day passed kind of blank.  If you are an American, I think you will probably understand the way it felt.  It's not an active, whirling sort of sadness anymore.  It has settled into the pit of our stomachs as a more steady, gnawing, inactive sort of aching discomfort.  We are watching our nation implode with all sorts of economic and political problems while the media and government officials pit Americans against one another with the most hateful and horrible rhetoric I've ever heard.  Apparently, we're supposed to hate each other, now.  On a day that we all remember as the most horrifying we ever experienced, we were all a team.  Everyone obeyed traffic laws.  People quietly and without request just stopped being in a hurry and helped each other with whatever they could do.  I am struggling now to understand where that quality went and how things got from that to this.  My tiny hometown in Arkansas lost a member that day.  She was a stewardess on flight 11.  I had not spoken to her since I was a child, and she was a couple years older than me, so I never was close to her...but I still think of her every year on that day.  I remember her dressed in a band uniform with her hair - it was long then - and her gorgeous feline eyes crinkled in a smile.  She was laughing with someone.  That flash memory of her is all I can remember with any clarity.  Sara was her name.  All I am is sad for her family and ashamed that I didn't know her better when we were children.  Sigh.  It makes no sense, and I have grown very weary of the ugly and political ways that day and all the loss it brought is being used.

I know.  You don't come here for politics or sadness.  You come here for recipes and vegan ideas.  See...that's the problem.  That's what I come here for, too, and I haven't had many recipes or vegan ideas lately.  I struggle to stay vegan in Ireland.  The products and produce I grew accustomed to are not all available here.  Dairy is a very central focus of meals in Ireland, and I can't even find tofu on the grocery shelves three visits out of five.  I found a little store that sells almond milk and soy protein crumbles, but they aren't the kind I'm used to, and there is a learning curve.  I eat a lot of rice and vegetable bowls and I have found myself sliding back into dairy consumption on a relatively regular basis.  We order a lot of takeout because I find myself feeling unwilling to cook at home.  I get crispy chili tofu from the Chinese place and I get a veggie burrito bowl from the Mexican place, and I get flatbread pizza with no cheese from the pizza place.  It's very monotonous and repetitive.

So, to those of you who still come by to check for new posts periodically, God bless you for sticking by me.  :)  I am struggling.  I think all vegans struggle at some point or other because it's hard, sometimes, to live differently than the mainstream does.  I have fallen into a rut.  We eat out too much, I don't cook as often as I used to, our life here in Dublin is hectic and dotted with unpleasant governmental things, and I am often preoccupied.

I am an imperfect vegan.  I am an imperfect person.  I am the worst, most procrastinating-est blogger in the whole wide world.  But I am still here.  I use this blog, myself, as a cookbook of sorts.  Just last night, I pulled the laptop into the kitchen to use my lentil soup recipe.  It really is good, isn't it?  I've taken to adding chili paste in for killing sinus pressure.  At least for a while after eating a bowl, I can breathe through my nose.  /nod

Tell me some stories or send me some requests.  I would tell you all the posts I'm thinking of making, but it seems like every time I do that, it's destined not to happen.  Ha ha!  No more disappointing everyone.  Have a look at the old recipes.  Try out the colcannon for Halloween.  I have every intention of resurrecting the blog and getting my butt back to the kitchen where I am happiest.  This is just a slump time.  It will end eventually.

In the meantime, pray for America, pray for wisdom in our government, and pray for the little Nix family in Ireland.  We surely appreciate it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Forty Days of Trial

Hello, Everyone!

Today is Ash Wednesday.  For Christians, this day symbolizes the beginning of Christ's 40 days of fasting in the desert before he began his ministry.  Lent is the name we give this time spent in contemplative prayer and self-sacrifice that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday (the joyful day on which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus...and I have no idea where the eggs and rabbits came into it).

Though my religion is not the focus of this blog, it is the motivation behind both my veganism and my desire to share that veganism with others.  For me, Lent is the perfect time to buckle down and refocus my energy on introspection and an examination of my conscience.

Whatever your religion or belief, there is benefit in this practice.  We, all of us, can improve.  We, all of us, have character flaws to examine and work on.  Self-examination is the only way to mature - to grow.  Being a "good" person is easy, and the judgment of that condition is entirely subjective.  Meditating on what you believe being a good person really means and then orienting your life to be better than you are has actual meaning.  Too few people ever look at themselves in a meaningful way, and I think lives never examined are lives wasted.

I will be spending this week finishing up two posts.  The first will be about kale.  The other will be about my current personal struggles with veganism and faith.  I hope you will all indulge me in one or two spiritual posts per year.  After is my faith that led me to this place, and I cannot separate my veganism from my belief in God.  Without that belief, I wouldn't be vegan.

A contemplative, safe, and blessed Ash Wednesday to you all.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fried Fishy Sandwiches

As is pretty obvious from some of my previous entries, I really love Toni Fiore's video podcast, "Delicious TV VegEZ."  This past month, the podcast put out a recipe called "Tofu Phish Fillet Sandwiches," and I was inspired!  Here is a link to Ms. Fiore's original video recipe.  Mine is very similar, and the inspiration for it came entirely from the VegEZ original, but let's be honest:  I just didn't want to make mine quite that healthy.  Ha ha!

Lookit, I'm from Arkansas, and I'm from rural, backwoods Arkansas.  I grew up in a place where my brother and I would walk to our own pond--barefooted most of the time--and throw a simple line from a cane pole with a cork bobber and a worm on it into the water.   My mother would make hush puppies and fried bits of catfish and serve it with cole slaw and thinking about it makes me drool...mmm!  So, I loved eating fried fish practically from the time I left the womb.  I also loved fried fish sandwiches.  For years, I would go through the drive-thru of some fast food joint or other and get a fried fish sandwich slathered in cheese and mayo.  I won't lie.  I savored every single horribly unhealthy bite.  When I saw this recipe, a little catfish-shaped lightbulb went off over my head.  I knew I could make this a fried fishy concoction, so I scrambled down to the kitchen and made my little modifications.  Here is what we did in Kitchen de la Nix...and it was GOOD, Y'all.  Seriously, wondrously good.  At the end, I'll tell you how I'll make this differently next time, and remember that if you don't want this recipe fried, you can save calories and fat by making it Toni Fiore's way.  Just watch her video.


Fried Fishy Sandwiches
1 block Frozen Firm Tofu, thawed
Dry Egg Replacer (two eggs' worth)
4 Sandwich Rolls (we used a lovely vegan Ciabatta roll we found at Tesco)
4T Malt Vinegar (Toni used cider vinegar, but I prefer malt vinegar with fish)
1T Old Bay Seasoning
3/4C Panko Bread Crumbs
1/4C Regular Plain Bread Crumbs
2T Plain Flour
2 1/2tsp Nori, ground
1tsp Onion Powder
1/2tsp Garlic Powder
1/2tsp Sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Before you really start assembling things here, you might need to make a few preparations.  First, the nori.  Nori is a seaweed steamed and rolled out into sheets and toasted.  It is typically sold in sheets, and I had never seen any for sale already powdered or minced up into small pieces.  I tried cutting it into tiny pieces, and that would work if you wanted to spend an hour dealing with it, but I didn't.  So...I got out my coffee bean grinder.  I tore the sheet of nori into pieces that would fit in the grinder.  It took less than a minute to grind the entire sheet, and it did the trick beautifully.  If you can find nori already ground up...awesome.  If not, try this or a food processor.


Now for the tofu.  You cannot make this recipe properly without first freezing your block of tofu.  When tofu is frozen, the texture of it changes.  When you thaw a block of frozen tofu, you will find that the texture of it is very spongy and far more structurally sound.  The mouth feel of previously-frozen tofu is different, as well..."meaty" is an apt adjective for it.  For this recipe, you really need to freeze the tofu.  Just put the entire package, unopened, into the freezer as soon as you get home from the store with it.  Take it out and thaw it completely.  When you open the package, squeeze the block thoroughly to remove the water.  You now have a block of tofu that will soak up any sauce or marinade like a sponge - literally.  


Slice the block of tofu into eight uniform slices, blot with a paper towel on both sides, and set aside.  In a bowl, mix together the malt vinegar, sugar, and 1/2tsp of your ground nori.  Whisk these together and set aside.  Using a dry egg replacer like the one I have pictured above, get a 2nd small bowl and mix the equivalent for two eggs according to the package instructions.  Set this aside as well.  

In a medium bowl, mix the panko, bread crumbs, flour, garlic powder, onion powder, Old Bay, remaining nori, salt, and pepper with a fork until all ingredients are evenly distributed.  Taking each slice of tofu, dip them in the vinegar mix, coat with the egg replacer, and then dredge in your bread crumb mix.  Once fully coated, put the slices aside on a plate or tray to await frying.


Cover the bottom of a deep skillet (you don't need a lot of oil...just cover the bottom of the skillet), and heat the oil until a bit of the breading dropped in immediately bubbles.  Once your oil is heated, place each of the fishy planks into the oil and cook on one side until golden brown (about 3 minutes).  Flip each slice over and do the same thing on the other side.  Remove the planks from the oil and place them on some paper toweling to drain.

Voila!  Make sure to share a piece with any Children, Foster Bassets, or Husbands who wander through while you assemble the sammiches.  We made these with lettuce, tomato, and red onion on lovely ciabatta rolls.  They were awesome...and they really did taste like fried fish.  There was one thing we'd change...

The Next Time I Make This Recipe:
I will not dip the individual tofu slices in the vinegar mix.  I will simply press the entire block of tofu, once squeezed free of water, into the vinegar mix on each side.  We love the malt vinegar flavor, but we think the slices soaked up too much individually.  Though it was quite tasty this way, we felt the strength of the vinegar flavor took away from the spices and other flavors in the breading.  This is a matter of preference.  If you want a milder malt vinegar flavor, try dipping the entire block in the vinegar mix rather than soaking each slice.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Breakfast Hash

I promised a breakfast hash posting a while back when I made it for the first time.  It is delicious.  Then I got the flu...bad flu...serious 103-degree temperature for four days flu...followed by three SOLID weeks of recovery while it lingered and clung on for dear life.  It was HORRID.  Then there was Christmas and my birthday.  It's the age-old holiday season excuse.  But I'm back, now, so let's just forget all that viral crap and put it behind us, shall we?

One thing I've really worked to recreate as a vegan is egg dishes...because I loved to eat them once upon a time.  Real eggs really, REALLY skeeve me out now, so I can't even "cheat" and eat one now and again.  I seriously find eggs and the entire concept of eating eggs revolting.

But I still miss the taste and texture I used to enjoy so much.

Fortunately for me, I have found a friend in tofu.  From the earliest days of my vegan eating, I have been pleased with tofu/turmeric scrambles.  They work for me.  Heck, I didn't even add anything to my tofu scrambles...just tofu, vegan butter, turmeric, and S&P.  Voila.  It might have all ended right there because I am a creature of implacable habits, but the trouble was that my husband didn't really like plain ol' tofu and turmeric scrambles.

So, from the very beginning, I have been on a mission to have yummy breakfast at home for Mr. Nix.  Sometime in late November of last year...I succeeded.  Here is our breakfast hash recipe.  It's simple, it's inexpensive, and my husband really likes to eat it.  Enjoy!

1:29 Project Breakfast Hash

1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium bell pepper (any color), diced
1 large or 2 small potatoes, scrubbed and diced
2/3 block Firm Tofu, diced
1tsp Turmeric
1tsp Garlic Paste (or 3 cloves minced garlic)
1/4tsp Hot Chili Paste (or Red Pepper Flakes), optional
c. 2T Vegan Butter
c. 1T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Over medium high heat, get your pan nice and warm.  Add the butter and oil.  Let those get really good and hot.  Add in the onion, bell pepper, tofu, and potatoes.  DON'T touch them, yet.  Just let them sit there in the hot fats.  While this is happening, throw in the garlic and chili.  After about a minute, stir this all up.  Get it good and mixed together and add the salt, pepper, and turmeric.  Once all of this is well-incorporated and happy together, put your spoon down again and let it sit.  We want browning to take place.  Put all your ingredients away and wipe down your counter while you let it sit there and cook (about 3 minutes).  At this point, you should see some lovely brown marks on your onions and potatoes.  Your breakfast hash is now ready to eat...however:  if you are like Mr. Nix, then you like your breakfast potatoes a little darker.   Allow the hash to cook to your personal texture preference from this point.  Remove from heat and serve.  We like to eat this with toast and jam.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Redefining Dinner

One of the challenges of going vegan is learning to change our concept of dinner.  What does dinner look like?  What does an appetizing plate contain if we aren’t going to put any meat or cheese on it?  Tonight, while I was cooking the family evening meal, Mr. Nix came into the kitchen with me to “help.”  This is special code language for “playfully harass me while I cook.”  At some point during the shenanigans, he stopped and suddenly shouted, “You know what you need to do?”  I smiled.  “No, Bubby, what do I need to do?”  “You need to make a book called, ‘Side Dish No More,’ and make it all about how you make vegan entrees – you know, the main dish for a meal.”

Tonight’s dinner was an excellent example of how I’ve begun to naturally replace animal fats and proteins on our dinner plate with things most Americans consider only as a side dish.  Our plates tonight held roasted root vegetables, steamed fresh green beans, and jasmine rice covered with a tomato porridge sauce I made up because I didn’t have any flour to make tomato gravy.  It was completely scrumptious, healthy, and satisfying.
It has taken me a year for this sort of dinner to come naturally.  I have spent most of my first year as a vegan having to hunt specific ingredients and meticulously plan menus using online aids.  Today, I am able to stand in my kitchen and look around at the items I have on hand to make a meal for my family, but it took months of laborious work and a lot of trial and error to get here.  That’s because the American dinner plate is all about a meat, a starch, and a vegetable.  If it doesn’t contain these three items, it ain’t a “healthy” or “complete” meal.  I spent the first 34 years of my life cooking that way.  All of my culinary habits involved butter, eggs, bacon grease, meat, and cheese.  Every meal I knew how to throw together, and all of the components I was comfortable using were formed around the 3-part traditional American dinner plate.

Getting out of that mindset takes time because it is cultural and habitual.  I have been grateful more than a few times over the past year that I was already a kitchen person when I went vegan.  I love food, and I love to cook.  I’ve always been a quick study in the kitchen, so that comfort level and experience has served me very well in this year of transition.  For those who are not already familiar and comfortable with home cooking, who don’t know by feel how to mix together or substitute fats and proteins and grains and spices with one another…well, I can imagine that the process of redefining dinner can present a serious obstacle.

If you find yourself asking, “What can we eat?” or saying, “I just don’t know what to make,” on a regular basis, the best advice I know to give is the following:

1.) Learn how to make soups.  Soup is forgiving.  By that, I mean that once you get the basic recipe, soup is really hard to mess up.  For inexperienced or uncomfortable cooks, soup can help you feel confident about trying new things.

2.) Make meals that include three dishes like the one in my picture here.  They bring comfort and familiarity.  Mr. Nix LOVES when I make meals that look like this for him because they resemble and “feel” like the old meat-starch-veggie plate.  Get three different colors on the plate or put three different textures.  Think of it as a crisp-chewy-smooth plate.  Ha ha!  Whatever criteria you use to choose your dishes, always work with three.  It’s amazing how attached Americans are to that three-item plate. 

3.) Get online and find recipes to try.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up eating several along the way that turn out with less than desirable results.  My recipe failures this past year have included two cornbread recipes (I finally made my own), a veggie meatloaf (went into the garbage…it was THAT bad), too many pasta recipes to count, an eggplant dish (I still shudder when I think about that one), some tofu attempts…it goes on and on.  These failures are okay because in between the bad recipes, you’ll be learning what does work for you.

4.) Finally, remember that you can’t erase a lifetime of habit in a week or two.  Give yourself time to figure out what you like seeing in that empty spot on the plate where your chicken leg used to be.   I’m still a work in progress after a year.  I mean, I still can’t shake off the egg mayonnaise…but I’m learning.  You will, too.

God bless you and keep you.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Irish Bruschetta's bruschetta made in Ireland.  Same thing, right?  Actually, the tomatoes are from France and the basil is from Israel, but the baguettes were made right here in Dublin...this morning.  I made 5 baguettes and 3 pounds in tomatoes worth of this recipe this morning, and it was ALL eaten up by the guests before anyone ate any of the omni food.  I was pretty danged proud of it.  People were just hovering around the platter, and I had to keep refilling it.  /flex

Shortly after getting off the plane last week, we got acquainted with Roly's Cafe here in Ballsbridge.  It's conveniently located less than a block from our hotel, so we ate there more than people would generally do in our first week.  The bread there is just really, really good, and they make it all onsite.

Here at home, now, we are located about a mile away from Roly's.  We have no car, yet, but because it is Thanksgiving, and because I didn't want to show up at our sponsor's house empty-handed, and because we don't have much in the kitchen to cook with, and because I really wanted to use these incredible mix-n-match tomatoes I bought on Tuesday...well, Mr. Nix was sent for a walk in the cold this morning to retrieve some Irish French bread from Roly's.  And here we are.

Make this.  Trust me.

(my very first post from the new kitchen!  Squeal!)

There are no measurements here.  Go with your gut and use what you have.

Good Crusty Bread
Fresh Basil
Olive Oil
Black Pepper
Garlic Clove, peeled


Chop your tomatoes into nice, bite-sized pieces.  Chiffonade your basil.  If you don't know how to cut in a chiffonade, you can either look at our page here, or you can chop it up any ol' way you like.  Mix together the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper to taste, and then drizzle with olive oil to get a nice coating.  Stir this all together.  Taste for salt content, adjust, and then put it in the fridge to marinate while you prepare your bread.

Slice your bread into the desired size pieces.  I used baguettes today because these were meant to be little bite-sized appetizers.  If you use this for a meal, go big or go home.  Use a nice heavy Italian bread or get funky and use a dark pumpernickel.  Whatever you use, keep the pieces a good size for handling.  We don't eat this with a fork, People.


Now, if you want to be healthy about all this, you can just toast your bread in the oven.  This is Thanksgiving, though, so I brushed the bread slices on both sides with olive oil, and I was generous with it.  Next, I  fried them in a pan on the stove.  Either way, once your bread is crunchy and ready to go, it's time to add the garlic.

Take a raw, peeled garlic clove and just rub it against the crunchy bread.  Like a grater, the bread will sort of consume the garlic.  Rub the bread with the garlic on both sides and then set your slices out on a platter.


Get your tomatoes out of the fridge and spoon generously onto the bread.  Get as much of the tomato mixture on the slice as it will hold and then have fun watching your family or friends try to be all neat while they eat it.

This stuff is better than the bees' knees.  It's freaking delicious.  Enjoy it, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Think I've Turned Japanese

The Flag of the Okinawan Prefecture of Japan
 I love my country.  Although America will always be my homeland and my primary patriotic love, my home has been elsewhere for a long time, now.  Okinawa and her people have been very good to us for the past three years, and we are leaving her in a matter of days.  There is both sadness and joy in this.  This little island has been my first experience as an expatriate, and I have both hated and loved every day of it.

I felt a sort of vertigo when we moved here.  I was displaced and dizzy in a foreign country that was truly alien to me in every way.  The language, the food, the architecture, and even the toilets were strange and intimidating to me.  Since that shaky first impression, however, Okinawa has become my home.  The people are open and kind and generous - astonishingly so.  The food has grown on me, and now I can't imagine being without it.  My tiny concrete house has become my home.  I am in my element here.

There is a very third-world feel to Okinawa.  Everywhere you go, you see the rubble of abandoned buildings, unkempt and overgrown fields, empty lots piled with rusty rubbish, and narrow streets filled with simply-dressed people on foot or bicycle.  Large portions of the island are covered by the overwhelming stench of chicken, pig, and cow manure when the fields are spread and the wind blows just right.  The heat and humidity are just stifling about 8 months out of the year.  The appearance of relative poverty and overcrowding are all around you from clothing hung to dry off of every high rise balcony to the narrow, pothole-filled streets to the homeless beggars gathered under overpasses and on the sidewalk corners. 

Despite all of this, there is also a wild sort of beauty to Okinawa.  Miniature farms with tiered fields strung up in fairy lights to protect the tropical crops from chilly nights.  Huge, jutting hills covered with a dense tangle of jungle trees, vines, and underbrush.  Massive, sheer-faced cliffs descending hundreds of feet down into the waves of the Pacific Ocean.  Little fishing boats.  A man walking a bull down the street.  Ancient stone Shinto burial temples covered with moss.  Young children playing baseball in perfectly manicured parks.  Majestic ruins from the Ryukyu Empire dotted all over the island.  Incredible sprays of carefully-cultivated orchids, lilies, and other extraordinary flowers.  The sea is also, literally, all around.  In some places violent, with white waves crashing on jagged rocks, in other places clear and cerulean and calm.  And, then, there are the Okinawan people.

The Okinawan people seem almost childlike to an American at first glance.  Their culture is open, truthful, and incredibly polite.  Doors are routinely left unlocked because theft is practically unheard of.  Everyone from the manager of a bank to the man who landscapes the public medians takes pride in his job.  There are uniforms of a sort for every type of work here, and the Okinawan people always look clean, pressed, and professionally intent on their work.  This kind of personal pride in even the lowest wage work is almost totally absent from today's American society.  Watching it still takes me by surprise, sometimes...even after three years.  There is an obsession here with anything cute (kawaii) or decorative.  The Japanese gift-giving traditions are complex and puzzling.  The appearance of the gift is just as or even more important than the contents of the package.  The importance placed on gift wrapping and presentation crosses over into the service industries.  Even at the 100¥ store, any fragile item you purchase will be neatly wrapped in newsprint and tied or taped into a little gift shape.  Everything is wrapped in rice paper or tied with beautiful ribbon.  No opportunity for decoration or artistic presentation is overlooked.  Okinawans delight in children and family.  Complete strangers will take a young child from her mother and entertain her with games and play or treats out of the blue.  American mothers are often taken aback by this kind of behavior, but it is born of a cultural love for children.  There are no looks of angry annoyance at childish antics in public.  Everyone in every age group is patient and accommodating to both the children and the families moving about in society with them.

All of these things, the good and the bad, have become a part of my space - my new natural habitat.  I see them and am surrounded by them every day.  Now, all of that is about to be over.  America has chosen a new home for us, and because we serve The United States in this family, that is simply that.  Our new home will be Dublin, Ireland.  I don't know how we're going to adjust to the culture shock of being Okinawanized Americans living in Europe...but I know we will find a way to manage.

Today, my husband, our daughter, and I are packing suitcases and preparing for the last TMO shipments (military movers, basically) that will be taken from our home.  They will come for the next two days, handle everything I own, pack it up in wooden crates, and put it all on a ship for Dublin.  I'm ready to go, but I will be very sad to leave.