Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pictures and Thoughts for February

Well, it's February. I've been vegan, now, for nearly 3 months, and it's going very well, indeed. I haven't been posting very often, lately, but that has more to do with the statistics class I'm taking than with anything else. As more of a writing and reading sort of person, mathematics will tend to take up a lot more of my time and effort if I am actually meant to learn it. So even though my daily computer time has been reduced by a mean of one and a half hours with a standard deviation of 22 minutes on a standard normal has been otherwise grand.

I have some pictures from the last week or so to show you. The first one here on the left is a photograph I took of Elizabeth's breakfast one day. She told me, "Mommy, I bet I'm the only kid in my school who gets a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast!" Since this cookie has flax meal, no eggs, no cholesterol, and no dairy fat...I bet her cookie is a much healthier choice than all the kids chowing on sugar-filled breakfast cereal and full-fat cow's milk. So. I let her eat cookies for breakfast, sometimes. :) Eliza's stories of the reactions she gets from classmates in the lunchroom are some of my favorites. Last weekend, Elizabeth and I made a chocolate cake. While we were mixing the egg replacer and measuring out the organic sugar, I answered a round of 6 year-old "why" questions that worked themselves around into explaining again why we don't eat eggs or drink cow's milk anymore. In the end, Elizabeth declared that our cake was healthy (and in many ways, it was). I told her that, yes, it was a very healthy chocolate cake and that it was good for her as long as she only ate one piece. On Monday, when I picked her up from school, Elizabeth matter-of-factly told me, as she buckled her seatbelt, "Well, Mommy, I told Kayla about our healthy chocolate cake, and she said I was lying. Kayla doesn't believe in healthy chocolate cake. I feel sorry for her because she is missing out." Being proud and giggling at the same time...well, it's one of my favorite things about being a mom . Here are some pictures of my first batch of vegan chocolate chip cookies and a recent picture of my smart little princess.

These next pictures below are of some of my lunch bowls. I love rice bowls, and I have finally hit on the rice recipe. Before I give it to you, I will indulge in a tangential rant:
Now, lookit. If you don't want to eat white rice? Don't. No one is forcing you to eat white rice, and nobody with sense would try to argue that white rice is as good for you as brown rice. Go have your bowl of nutty brown rice and enjoy it. That's great. Congratulations. As for me, I can't stand brown rice. I don't like the flavor, the texture, the aroma...nothing about it appeals to me. I'm 35 years old, and I've tried brown rice many ways in many recipes, and I haven't liked any of them. At my time of life, I feel I've earned the right to say, "I don't care for that, thank you." I love barley, oats of all kinds, multi-grain mixtures, wild rice, and muesli. I eat all of these liberally and I'm very adventurous with trying new grains, so I'm not worried about being deficient in high-fiber whole grain products in my diet. I also eat a lot of white rice (as, may I remind you, does the entire Asian population in the Orient...all very healthy cultures with historically long life spans)...and I fully intend to continue doing so. It's not going to kill me. So just deal.

So anyway...I cook one cup of long-grain white rice with 2C of water, one veggie bouillon cube, and a T of olive oil. Bring it to a boil, cover tightly and lower heat to simmer for about 15 minutes (or until water is fully absorbed and rice is fluffy-tender). It is insanely good. I've begun making a double batch and keeping the leftovers in the fridge so I can use it for snacking or quick-cooking later on. The first bowl is Brussels sprouts, chickpeas, and water chestnuts tossed in olive oil (or Smart Balance) and garlic salt on high heat until the sprouts caramelized. If you've never eaten Brussels sprouts this way, you honestly don't know what you're missing. The second bowl is one I made for my husband with all his favorite (or I should say least non-favorite) vegetables. I tossed fresh raw green beans, frozen green peas, blackeye peas, and fresh chopped carrots in lemon pepper, canola oil, and garlic salt until the carrots were al dente. We seriously made gluttons of ourselves.

On to the health and body changes. I'm totally losing weight. Not even trying. Snacking constantly. Eating more carbs than I have ever eaten in my whole life. Not really working out, lately (slacked off because of the holidays and my gym partner's husband deployed, and she's been helping another friend whose husband is deployed while she had a baby....long story). Nope. Nothing. Just...eating the way I want to eat. Losing serious weight. I'm down about 10 pounds now, and pretty soon I'm going to have to go buy some new clothes. I know!! The horror. There has been a bodily downside, but in the Nix family, we're very easy-going people who enjoy laughing at ourselves, anyway. We are seriously the most flatulent family you ever met, now. I'm assuming that this will eventually go away, and we don't find it painful or uncomfortable...just inconvenient. Well. I do. Mr. Nix and Eliza think it's hilarious.

So anyway, this is getting lengthy, but I'll close with the following pictures. A friend of mine took me to a local produce market where everything is local and seasonal. It's all grown within a half-hour's drive of my home. It's absolutely fantastic. Yesterday, I bought the most beautiful yellow carrots I've ever seen, and a bag of fresh basil that made my whole van smell like pesto in the 10-minute drive between market and home. The coup de gras? They have fresh tofu there...made on the premises! It was still HOT from being made in the back. I. was. in. HEAVEN in this store. Will go back with camera next time.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Beagle Break

Kioko the Wonder Beagle...sometimes, I just have to post pictures of my dog.

Chicken Fried Tofu

Well, technically, it isn't fried and there's nothing chicken-ish about it, but you get my drift. I was thinking about how much my husband has always loved the meat-starch-veggie meal that is the perfect portrait of a quintessential American dinner plate. Pork chops with mashed potatoes and gravy with green beans. That was one of his all-time favorites. So. I thought long and hard about how to recreate that for him, and this was my answer. I took some extra-firm tofu and sliced it into a pleasing size. I dipped them in soy sauce (which was an idea I got online somewhere) and then coated them with breadcrumbs, salt, nutritional yeast, oregano, and basil. For the gravy I used a vegetarian creamy gravy mix from Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe. It wasn't bad at all. It needed some salt, but aside from that, I was quite pleased with it. In the end, we had a very enjoyable meal, indeed. The tofu was quite tasty, and the texture was really all I could've hoped for. It was really, really good. My only complaint is that it sat very heavy and was much richer than I imagined it would be. Considering that I have eaten a lot of tofu in my lifetime and feel very comfortable and familiar with it, I was surprised to be taken surprise, by the way I felt after eating it.

Alrighty, here's the recipe:

Chicken Fried Tofu
1 Container Extra-Firm water-packed Tofu, pressed, and sliced (ours yielded 6 slices)
2-3T Soy Sauce
2T Nutritional Yeast
1T Corn Meal
3T Plain Breadcrumbs
Dried Oregano and Basil to taste

Spray a cookie sheet or broiler pan lightly with nonstick spray. Get two small bowls just large enough to dip/dredge your tofu slices. In one of these, mix the bread crumbs, yeast, herbs, and corn meal. In the other, put your soy sauce. Take each slice of tofu, dip it in the soy sauce, and then dredge it in the bread crumb mixture until it's fully coated on all six sides. Place on your baking pan about an inch or so apart. Bake at 375-degrees for 10 minutes, flip, sprinkle on more bread crumbs if needed, and then bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Serve with a cream-style gravy while still hot.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Completely Excited - New Food Projects!

Inspired by

So...yeah. The Smoking Thing

Yeah, so I'm a smoker. I've been smoking off and on (mostly on) since I was 18, and I'm 35 now. You do the math...I don't care to, thanks. My darling friend of a decade-plus, also named Amy, taught me to crochet in the hopes that I could substitute yarn-craft instead of overeating for smoking when I try to quit.

I'm circling this idea. I'm vegan now, and it feels so good and so happifying (it is too a word). The reason it feels so good is that we are eating and living in direct alignment with our value system and priorities. I mean, I'm finally treating my body like a temple in the food category, but I still smoke. It makes no sense, and I know this...but I like cigarettes. I always have.

So I would sure like it if those of you who visit this blog would give me something useful to work with on this. I really don't have any use for "You takes ten years off your life," or, "Your lungs look like chocolate pudding and smell like an ashtray." Yeah, I read that memo and watched that movie several times. It doesn't help. I don't need shaming or scaring (neither does any other smoker over the age of 20 and your efforts in that direction are a waste of breath, time, and good energy). I need encouragement and tools for self-motivating. If some of you have quit smoking successfully yourselves or are close to someone who has, I'd like to hear your advice, stories, and struggles. I would really, REALLY appreciate it, actually.

Mung Beans and Coconut Curry Rice

The weather today is crappy. I mean it is Ug-uh-LEE outside. It's wet, a bit clammy-cool, gray and depressing, and you get the picture. On top of the ugly weather, I am in study week for my mid-term in Statistics (which I have to take tomorrow), and I hate math with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. This class is kicking my butt (which is code for, "making me actually work for my grade which no es bueno because I'm an intellectually lazy sloth." And, the final face-slap today is all the laundry I have to fold. So I'm moping...but I'm not alone.

The ever-effervescent wonder beagle, Kioko, is moping, too. I feel bad for her. The sun didn't shine through the glass door to warm her usual spot this morning. It's a very grievous disruption of her daily schedule, and a beagle's morning sunny spot is SFB.

So, Kioko san and I discussed it, and we decided that food was the only possible way to relieve today's general melancholy haze. The beagle, who is an expert on food, suggested that I make something warm, spicy, comforting, and different for the family dinner tonight. I told her she was brilliant, rubbed her belly, and brought her a nylabone to chew in her moping chair. She likes it when I express the proper level of appreciation for her beneficence with her culinary genius.

After careful consideration taken whilst standing in the pantry closet munching on a bag of dried apricots and surveying all the shelf-stable foodstuffs we own in the Nix house, I decided to return to my old idea from last week about mung beans and bok choy. I'm cookin' those a recipe...together...and you people are going to LIKE it. Ha ha!

The recipe will be some sort of hot rice bowl which includes the bok choy (I'm thinking of roasting them or braising them and chopping, but I am not yet decided) stirred in with beans and rice (which will be the mung beans cooked into coconut curry rice). This could work...or it could really suck. Wish me luck!


Finished Product! Oh, this is one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten, but since it was such a foreign thing for me to make, it was a lot of unnecessary work, and I didn't really know what to pair it with. I will be making this again, and now that I've been through the process once, I don't think it will take so much time or effort in future.

Some notes about parts of the recipe you might find intimidating: Mung Beans are small, ovular beans that look like green blackeye peas. I found them in the Asian foods section of my commissary. Given that I live in Okinawa, I can't assume that American grocers will carry them. If you cannot find mung beans, I think lentils would be a suitable substitute. You can achieve perfect crushed ginger root from a fresh piece with a ginger juicer. You can see a picture of mine HERE. You'll notice that it is a ceramic dish with little sharp nubs in a circle. You take a peeled piece of ginger root and gently "grate" it over these nubs. The result is perfectly crushed ginger root. Coconut milk is sold in cans, and you can find it in the Mexican foods section of any standard grocery store. When you open the can, you'll find a layer of soft, semi-solid coconut fat on top of the liquid. Don't be put off by this and, whatever you do, don't discard the fat. It's a natural process, and coconuts have a LOT of fat in them. You need to whisk this solid back into the liquid before adding coconut milk to a recipe. The creamy, wonderful flavor and texture is more than worth the hassle.

This dish is made with coconut milk, spices, white rice, and mung beans, and it is just scrumptious beyond imagining. Here's how I did it:

Mung Beans and Coconut Curry Rice

1C uncooked White Rice
2C cooked Mung Beans
1 can Coconut Milk
1/2C Water
1/2 Yellow Onion, small dice
1tsp Garlic, crushed
1/2T Ginger Root, crushed or grated
1/2tsp Turmeric
1/2tsp Cinnamon
1/2tsp Dry Mustard
1/8tsp Allspice

My mung beans came dry, and I soaked them all day on the counter in a pan full of water. Before cooking them, I drained the soaking water, rinsed the beans, and then cooked them in fresh water at a slow simmer for about 45 minutes. You will know they are ready when the skins split and the beans are tender. Taste a few to make sure the beans are totally cooked before removing from the heat. Once the beans are done, drain and rinse them to remove all the flatulence-causing stuff that cooked out of them in the simmer process. Once the rinse water runs clear, you're all done with the beans.

To make the curry rice, you put all the rest of the ingredients in a sauce pan for which you also have a cover. Stir everything up and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover and turn the heat down to a very low simmer. I babysat it like a risotto because I didn't know what I was doing, and the result was having to put in a LOT more liquid. Don't make my mistake. Cover it from the beginning and just leave it be for about 20 minutes. Check it at this point and taste the rice. When it is tender and the liquid is all absorbed, your rice is done. Fluff the rice with a fork. Stir in the mung beans and serve.

I've never tasted anything like this, and I am so glad I did it.

As for the bok choy...well, I apologize, but you'll just have to wait. Ha ha. I'm all burnt out on cooking for today.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

New Foods from the Commissary

So, I found these at the commissary and am dying to use them. The dates, I have a bit of experience with and loads of ideas. The rice noodles and seaweed sheets, however, I'm not quite sure what to do with. Suggestions, links, pictures, stories, and advice are all welcome!

Bruschetta Pasta Bowls

So I love bruschetta. I mean, I love bruschetta a lot. The plan was to make a huge platter of it for dinner and just let everyone go nuts, but to my deep chagrin, I didn't have enough bread. I didn't have any fresh basil, either, and if you decide to make this recipe in your own home, please use fresh basil leaves if you possibly can. It will make a huge, huge difference. I reconciled myself to eating bruschetta with dried basil, but bread is an absolute necessity.

Something had to be done.

After looking in the pantry, cursing at the total lack of bread that could be used for bruschetta croutons, getting sidetracked by the mess in there and spending half an hour reorganizing, and being interrupted yet again by a beagle looking very cute and very much like she wanted to play fetch with her stuffed zebra-cow (long story), I finally got back to working on dinner. Tucked in the back of the freezer, I found 3 rather dense wheat rolls from a meal I made like a month ago...and that was all she wrote unless I wanted to break out the icky white sandwich bread my husband and daughter seem to love so much. Sigh. So here's how it all came together...and let me just tell you. Oh Em Jee. Yum.

Bruschetta Pasta
1/2lb. Pasta (we used penne, but you can use anything you like)
4C Grape Tomatoes, quartered
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large Shallot, diced
5 or 6 cloves Garlic, chopped
Basil, lots of it, use chopped fresh leaves if you possibly can
5-6 slices of baguette or equivalent amount of another sturdy bread
Salt and Italian seasoning to taste (I used a McCormick salt blend)

While your pasta is boiling, put about4T of olive oil in a skillet or griddle over medium high heat. Once the pan is very hot, Put the slices of bread down to toast. Let them sit for about 2 full minutes without moving them. Flip. Same thing on the other side. When you take them out of the pan, they should look something like the picture below (click on all the pictures in this post for the larger view...they're nice). In the same pan, lower the heat to medium and add another T or so of olive oil. Saute the shallot and garlic until the garlic softens and the shallots are translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and sprinkle in your herbs and salt. When your pasta is al dente, drain it over the sink and then pour the pasta into the skillet on top of your shallot and garlic mixture. Toss to coat in the oil and herbs from the pan. Cut your fried bread into nice, forkable croutons.

In a large serving bowl (or in the skillet if you prefer), add the tomatoes and croutons to your pasta. Toss lightly to distribute everything evenly. Serve in bowls along with a nice little side salad, and try not to die of happiness.