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.