Bring each other kindness

This story had me shedding a tear of my own.

Short story shorter (for those who don't want to click through), a man wrote his experiences of being tormented in school by bullies. Tell me, to how many of you does this sound eerily familiar?

The bullying began in the 7th-grade and continued through to the day I graduated the 12th-grade. Although I didn’t come out of the closet until I was 35-years old, I was constantly ridiculed and called names including fag and fudgepacker. No matter how hard I tried, from going to school dances to dating girls, I was always seen as weak. I sang in the school choir and I was active in various clubs, which was seen as gay. Despite my participation in these activities I was a pretty shy kid. I wasn’t very good at gym and I was always picked last for games. I was excited when I discovered tennis and made the tennis team. But, alas, tennis, the bullies claimed, was a gay sport. I couldn’t win for losing! It didn’t help that most of my friends were girls – although, as it turns out, it was those girls that were the very people who kept me from going over the deep end. Those girls saved my life.

It's scary how close Kevin's words ring true for me, and I'm very sure, many of you. When I think of what culture means, with its implication of "shared experiences" and the like, this is not what I have in mind, but for many of us, this was the culture we experienced while going through school. It's sickening to think that it's still rampant today.

When I made the choice to go vegan all those years ago, a big part of it was living my life in reflecting the peace that I feel towards all beings, human and animal alike. I don't think it's right for people to have to suffer the indignities of physical or emotional torture. I don't think it's right for violence against our fellow beings who are sharing our time on this planet, to continue unchecked. It's not OK.

However, as with many stories, where the hero sticks it out (and, if you can see this, Kevin, you are a hero), things get better, and a ray of hope shines through. The very next day, Kevin got an email from one of his former tormentors, asking for forgiveness.

Whether or not Kevin chose to forgive (and you'll find out, if you click through) is immaterial. Forgiveness is as much an act for the forgiver as it is for the forgiven. When we seek to better ourselves, we must remember that we are imperfect. We are going to make mistakes, and learn from them. However, if we don't at least make an attempt to make amends, and to move forward, we hold ourselves back from evolving as people. We hold ourselves back from making peace, and making more kindness flow through the world.

I know that when I was in a position to forgive a former bully, I have done so. It wasn't for that person's sake; it was for my own. I needed to let go of that hurt and pain that I'd been holding on to all those years, and make peace with it; indeed, to make peace with myself. However, if that person had not come forward to ask me to forgive, I may have never had the opportunity to heal.

That's the thing about atonement. You are doing something good for yourself, but you're also doing something good for that other person. This is a time of celebration. The new year dawns open, and hopeful. In a week, we'll be in Yom Kippur, and it's time for us to reach out to those people that we've wronged, even if it's been a very long time since we've even thought of them. Kevin's bully approached him after thirty-five years, and Kevin could still vividly remember the hurt and pain he suffered. That's why it's so important to have a day of atonement. It forces you to step back for a moment, and really think about what you can do to clear the air, and move forward.

We can't move forward without looking back.

L'shana tova!


Creme de la Creme: Tofu-style

Get urself 3 lbs of firm tofu, mash it up with ur hands in a bowl of choice, place tofu in food processor. Depending on ur desired degree of sweetness, next add anywhere from a 1/2 cup to 1 & a half cups of cane sugar (or other dry sweetener of choice); then 12 ounces of coconut cream, not milk; and a 1/4 cup of desired oil or earth balance (or perhaps rich, decadent cocoa butter if ur so inclined) add 2-4 tablespoons of maple syrup, & same amount of tahini; then 3/4 cup of corn starch (or other starch of choice); & 1 tablespoon of vanilla ( or other desired variation); add 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg; & 1/2 teaspoon agar- agar powder; finish w a few pinches of salt. The recipe is done, unless u come up w other variations, but keep the liquids near the same amount. (Maybe cocoa powder or peanut butter; a banana or toasted nuts...) Whiz away till creamy as creamy can be, near 3-5 minutes. Stop processor, every now & then to scrap down the sides. It should not be grainy. If so, whiz some more. And it must be thick enough to hold on a spoon, it shouldn't drip over. If it drips over, u can add an extra 1/2 lb of mashed tofu, or place in freezer for a half hour or so: If it hardens up, it's good to go. Of course, give it a taste. If u have added less sugar, u may want more, along w other amount variations. If u taste a delicious sweet cream, and it holds up on a spoon, u r ready 4 the dance.

Pour in2 pie shell; over a baked 1" high cake; pour in2 a deep dish bowl...and bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Chill well in freezer if u want or need 2 consume quickly. Check in half hour to 1 hour. It shouldn't wiggle, and should, but doesn't necessarily need to be: Cold. Top, if u'd like to, w ganache, fresh fruit w glaze, nougatines... The variations r endless. Omit the starch & agar powder, pour over granola, spread on muffins... But it needs to be chilled till it hardens up a bit. And lastly: Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!


Veg & Daal

When I was a young one, and I didn't eat vegetables as readily as I do nowadays, my mother used to quietly slip some into the daal. I loved daal (as most Indian kids do), and loved it even more when my mum would mash up the rice, so that the whole lot became very easy to eat. It's sort of like how mothers in the USA slip veggies into pasta sauces that they serve their kids.

However, over time, I've grown to appreciate what a good idea that is for adults as well as for youngsters, and I've taken to making more grown up versions of it. For young children, whose teeth are still developing, you want things to be on the wetter side, and on the soft side. They're not going to appreciate very under-done veggies for the most part (if your kid is an exception to this, please give them a hug for me; it means that you have a particularly un-fussy young person in your life). As the child gets older, and her or his tastes develop, they start enjoying very crispy raw veggies, just barely cooked veggies, and all kinds of other things that they would have had a tough time with as kids.

It's why I've taken to updating the daal and rice with veg of my youth by adding raw veg to the end of the cooking of the daal. As in, I'll boil the beans, spice them up, make sure everything tastes right, and then turn off the heat. Then, I'll add whatever veggies I'm looking to add to that meal. This works especially well for dark leafy green veggies—which all of us should be eating every day—which cook rather quickly with a quick blast of heat (from the residual heat left in the pot of daal).

This does a few things. For one, it makes it much easier to get my complete meal in one go. I don't have to fuss about with a separate side dish when I'm in a rush. Everything's in one bowl, so I'm good to go. For another, it makes a very neat textural contrast. When cooked well, rice and beans tend to meld together beautifully. They provide this lovely creamy texture that cannot be matched. It's a very comforting texture, which is why so many cultures love to eat rice and beans together. However, to be perfectly honest, it can get a little monotonous. By adding the veg into that mix, you get this whole new textural experience. It's nice.

Of course, as all dark leafy greens do, it adds a good boost of fibre, vitamins, and minerals. You're getting a nice hit of vitamin K, A, and C, along with calcium and iron. Since vitamin C helps the absorption of iron, you're getting even more benefits from adding the leafy greens in. This means that you'll not only get the iron inside the greens, but also the iron in the brown rice and the iron in the beans much more easily than if you ate just the rice and beans. Since vitamin K and A are fat soluble, and daal is cooked with a bit of fat, you're getting the benefits of the whole shebang in one bowl!

Awesome, isn't it?

It's interesting to me to look back on things that my mother did, and see how smart they truly were. Mind you, if I were eating a proper Indian meal, I'd have the beans, the rice, the dark leafy greens, the root veg, the squashes/gourds, and raw vegetables in a meal. Each one would be in small little bowls, that I would mix with the rice as I'm eating, and I'd have a completely balanced meal going in one plate.

However, when I'm in a rush, and don't really have the time to have all those different components every time, it's nice to have something that I can have on the run without having to worry about getting all my nutrients in order. When I have the time, I certainly do make all those different varieties, and enjoy sitting down to them. When you're making small quantities of those things (enough for just one meal), you don't really need to spend too terribly long. However, there are those days when even those quick things to put together are too time- and labour-intensive to bother with.

On those days, it's daal, rice, and dark leafy greens.


How your roasted veg should NOT look if you want to peel them easily.

From September 16, 2011
From September 16, 2011
See those two sets of veg? I should have let them roast longer. When you're roasting vegetables to make the peeling happen, please take the time and let the skins completely get ballooned away from the flesh of the veg. This makes it so that the skin comes off easily, and the vegetable get a lovely roasty flavour.

I was impatient, and pulled them out when I saw most of the skin ballooning out. Bad idea. It took a herculean effort to wrest the skin from the veg. It was ridiculous. Please learn from my mistake, and let them go for as long as they need, turning the pan (or the veg) as necessary so that they get cooked evenly.

Why can't they be like the mushrooms, which roasted up beautifully?

From September 16, 2011

Chilly Weather Stuff

It's starting to get chilly, and it's times like these that you don't really worry too terribly much about cranking up the oven, and doing some serious roasting and baking, because your apartment could do with a bit of warming up anyway. Last night's dinner was really simple, but rather nice. We sliced up some eggplant, spaghetti squash, and broccoli, blasted them with a bit of nonstick cooking spray, and roasted them in the oven. The broccoli was done in 25 minutes, but the eggplants and the spaghetti squash took about 1 1/2 hours. Again, I wasn't bothered, because the big hard work of it all was slicing everything in half, and laying it on the baking tray, then chucking it in the oven.

The other thing is that since these are not finicky creatures, I didn't bother to preheat the oven. I just let them park in there as the oven heated, and they got done to a turn in that time. I didn't have parchment paper last night, so I also gave the baking sheets a hit of the spray, but if you do have parchment, you can skip the spray stuff completely. While those roasted away in the oven, I did some simple cabbage with a bit of curry powder, garlic, and oregano. Something about that mix just does lovely things to the smell. At the end, I sprinkled on some sea salt, and ground cumin. It tasted incredible. Then, I whipped up a quick white bean & chickpea dip (we used cucumbers for dipping) with white beans and chickpeas, rosemary, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and a bit of water to thin it out as needed.

The reason I'm not mentioning huge gobs of fat in everything is because we were having dinner at a friend's house, and both of them are trying to watch their calorie intake, so that they can keep the pounds under control until Thanksgiving and the other winter holidays show up, with their obscene amounts of food.

Frankly, none of us really missed the fat. The bean dip provided that creamy addition to the meal, and since everything was simply roasted, it was already bursting with caramelly flavour. And the best part is that the actual prep time was nonexistent, because everything kind of sat in the oven until it was done to a turn. For dipping, we used that Oyster Mushroom sauce you get at the Chinese market, and some Tamari with garlic and lime juice. It was quite possibly the most surprisingly filling meals I've eaten in a while. It was all vegetables, but it was filling!

We went through one medium head of cabbage, three broccoli crowns, five cucumbers, four pounds of tinned beans, a head of garlic, five enormous eggplants, and one large spaghetti squash. For all that, we went through about 1 teaspoon or so of oil. It got to where the fat was so low that it added negligible calories to the meal. Score.

Just because it's getting colder doesn't mean it's time to go into hibernation mode!


Double the onions.

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

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

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

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


Three 3s

The lovely ladies at Our Hen House gave a talk at the PA VegFest, and mentioned their Three 3s, which is three reasons to go vegan, three tips to transition to veganism, and three favourite resources. For the Hen House ladies, they needed to give a talk, and needed to keep it short, so their Three 3s were like little sound-bites. For us, we'll likely ramble a bit more, because this is me you're talking about, and I like to ramble. Feel free to skim, or read it all, or add your own!

Mind you, these are my own personal reasons, and don't reflect everyone here at Chow, or every vegan. Each vegan will have her or his own opinions. Get three vegans in a room, and you'll have five opinions on the same subject. :)

Three Reasons To Go Vegan
1. It's really fun & easy! Once you realise that eating vegan simply means opening up your eyes to the vast array of plant life (most of which is stunningly delicious), you start discovering new and interesting ways to fill your tummy. Once I went vegan, I began to introduce myself to vegetables that I'd ignored in the past, and began trying grains and pulses that I'd ordinarily pass by because they're "too expensive".

Cutting out the animal products made it so that I could afford a higher quality of food, and not really worry about watching myself carefully. Yes, quinoa can easily run about $3+ per pound, but how many pounds of quinoa can you really scarf in one sitting? That stuff expands like mad, and it's very filling. Splurge and enjoy it!

2. Animals are not there to be used by humans; they have their own wants, needs, and lives, and my life shouldn't interfere with theirs. This thought of peaceful co-existence spreads to my desire to see to it that all people, regardless of the shape they take in this lifetime, deserve to be treated fairly, and it's my responsibility to see to it that I do my best to reflect that. I'm not always 100% successful, but to strive for that is a noble goal.

3. I feel more at peace with my life, and the choices I make on a regular basis. When I was a vegetarian, and ate eggs and cow's milk, I always had an uneasy feeling in my soul that something wasn't quite right. Why was it OK for my needs/wants/desires to trump the needs/wants/desires of those animals to be left alone? Why is it OK for a system of living to thrive where the things that I consume are the products of suffering, of both human and nonhuman animals? It wasn't. I didn't feel comfortable with it, which is why I made the leap over to the vegan side.

I couldn't comfortably answer the questions of "what happens to the male cows, male goats, male chickens, who don't "produce" the products (milk, eggs, etc) that people want to eat?" I couldn't comfortably answer the questions of, "What happens to "spent" chickens, goats, or cows?" I was vegetarian from birth, for religious reasons, so I'd never really examined the reason to be a vegetarian until I got to school, and the other kids were asking me why my lunch didn't have any meat in it. Once I began to question my parents, and we all sat down to discuss it, I realised that my religion disallowed the eating of animals, because killing animals for food is not OK.

I was comfortable at that point, until I kept asking questions, like the ones that made me uncomfortable. When I finally came to the conclusion that the questions I was asking /are/ valid, and that silently continuing wouldn't do anymore, I made my change. Again, I'm not perfect, and won't ever say that I am. However, I'm striving to live by my ideals, and it makes me feel much more at peace with myself and my conscience.

3 Tips to Transitioning to Veganism

1. Find other vegans, and soon. If you live in the middle of nowhere, get online, and start subscribing to blogs, news sites, and podcasts. Find every vegan cooking show, food blog, website that you can possibly find, and read them voraciously. Find vegan forums, and start making friends there. This goes double if you're in a place that's hostile to vegans. If you're a teen vegan, this is especially important, because your family may make you feel like you're stupid, or too young to know any better, or find any number of reasons to belittle you and your ideals. There are others out there like you, and they're just a few keystrokes away. We're here. Find us!

2. Start finding recipes that are already vegan to begin with. I haven't eaten cheese in well over five years. If I have a Daiya grilled cheese sandwich, it tastes and feels just like what I remember. Why? Because it's been a /very/ long time since I've had the stuff, and eating the stuff now reminds me of the experience enough that it's not going to be off-putting for me. The same thing goes for soy milk. I hadn't had dairy milk in a very long time by the time I tried soy milk, and found it to be satisfying. (For the record? Nowadays I find that I like the taste of Trader Joe's Almond Milk far more than any other nondairy milk for just drinking. I've heard the same from other folks.)

The point is, that if you look at this as a "OK, now I will be exploring all those things I'd ignored in the past", rather than "I can't have ____", you'll feel like you're on an adventure, rather than on some kind of great big self-denying, self-sacrificing, martyr thing. It becomes fun. Indian, Chinese, South American, African, and even some Eastern European cuisines all have excellent foods that are vegan to begin with. They also often involve ingredients that you can find relatively easily. If you can't find specific spices or ingredients, substitute! I've found that with cooking, it's easy enough to have some wiggle room, as long as you've got a bit of confidence in doing so.

This is why I suggest that you join those vegan forums and cooking websites. Ask questions! People are very eager to share what they know, and will be more than willing to guide you along the way.

3. Take food with you. I've gotten into the habit of taking food with me regardless of how long I anticipate the trip to be. Why? Because vegan food can get pricey, if you're not prepared. For example, if I were to go to a typical Falafel Hut on MacDougall, and snag myself a vegan falafel sandwich, I can pay about $2.50 for that. It's tasty, and reasonably filling. However, water costs another $1. We're at $3.50. For that same $3.50, I can buy an onion ($0.50/lb), some beans ($1/lb), some brown rice ($1/lb), and spices (I'd only need a few scant pinches of this and that), and put together an entire dinner for me and my husband, with leftovers. Mind you, it's nowhere near as fast as paying that $3.50, but it starts to add up rather quickly.

And the $3.50 is the best case scenario. Often times, while running around, the cheapest option is a bag of potato crisps (very unhealthy, very salty so I need more water) for about $1. But then, I'm hungry again fairly quickly. I'd sooner spend that same money, and buy some unsalted nuts, some seeds, some raisins, and toss them together as a sort of a trail mix. If you're feeling a bit more extravagant, throw in some dates, some almonds, some dried fruit of various sorts, and you've got yourself a much more nutritionally dense snack that will keep you moving.

If I am to stop somewhere and pick up individually wrapped snacks of some sort, I'll spend a fortune. If I buy the large packs at the store when they come on sale, I can wrap them up in my own little reusable containers, and not pay nearly as much.

Why do I mention this? Because often times, when I was a freshly minted vegan, I had trouble finding places that had something that I could eat. Then, on the way home, I'd feel hungry again, and feel tempted to stop somewhere and snag something. I'd think, "It's only a couple of bucks here and there", and think nothing of it. All of a sudden, I'd look at my expenses at the end of the month, and have a heart attack over how much I'd spent on random junk I bought outside. It was ridiculous! There was absolutely no reason for it either, because my house was always well stocked.

Even if it means that you buy some bread, some peanut butter, and some sandwich bags, packing a peanut butter sandwich is way cheaper than you'll ever spend on anything from outside your house. Throw on some banana, or strawberry, and you've got a serving of fruit, protein, and grain all in one. The point is that if you set yourself up for success, you'll find yourself keeping on top of your needs more, and you'll see your vegan lifestyle go much more easy than if you depend on the kindness of strangers.

Mind you, I say all this even though I live in New York City, where the local bodega has like three different brands of soy milk, and pretty close to /every/ restaurant you walk into will have vegan options. I just don't fancy spending that kind of money, or going hungry. You wouldn't like me when I'm hungry!

Three Favourite Resources
1. Vegweb.com is an excellent resource for anyone who's into cooking. It's where I learned to make my own bread. It's where I learned how to make pineapple upside down cake (that even the omnis were pleased with). It's an enormous repository of information.

2. Google. I'm serious. Type in "vegan _____ recipe", and see what happens. I've gotten to where I don't bother with cookery books so much anymore, because the Googles is so good at ferreting out good finds for me.

3. Bryanna Clark Grogan's Vegan Feast. This is like your aunt who's a mad vegan scientist. She has made recipes for so many things that I lost count. She's a complete genius when it comes to cooking, and making things work. Give her site a shot, and see what you find.



So Mini Preefer gave the corrected Korean Tofu Cutlets a try. "Huh! That's a really nice taste of ginger!" Kiddo has a pretty good palate, apparently. I'm glad he noticed, because we had to increase the ginger by four times, notice that it was still too weak, then double that amount! Why?

Ginger is a finicky little rhizome. When it's bought fresh fresh fresh, it tastes strong and pungent, and gives this delightful spicy kick. The smell of grating ginger is refreshing. It clears the palate really well, as well as adds its own contribution to the eating experience. In short, it's a cool little plant.

However, if you let ginger sit around, and get lazy, its tastes get lazy too. Ginger begs to be used immediately. However, when it's cooked, the whole ballgame changes. The sharp pungency starts to mellow out extremely fast. When cooked, ginger becomes very tame, very quickly. For that reason, when I cook, I tend to add it towards the end of the cooking process, rather than along with the garlic and onions. If I specifically want a milder taste, I add it towards the beginning. Just knowing these little tricks can make it so much easier for you to incorporate ginger root into your cooking.

This is why when you're throwing a knob of ginger into your juicer, a very little goes a long way, whereas when you toss some in with your stir-fry (or, in our case, our BBQ Seitan, or Korean Tofu Cutlets) at the beginning of cooking, the taste is rather mild, and works more in the background than in the forefront.

It's the same like with garlic. When you chop up garlic very finely, and cook it for a long time, its sweeter notes come to the fore, and the garlicky taste sort of fades into the background flavours, and everything just tastes fantastic, but you can't quite tell why.

I mentioned all that to say this: the Korean Tofu Cutlets are roasted in the oven for a looong spell. During that cooking, the sugars caramelise, the chiles intensify, and the ginger gets more and more quiet. In the recipe we were using, the ginger was barely making any sound. You couldn't taste it in front of the rest of the stuff.

Here's your helpful hint. For long-cooking dishes, double the amount of ginger you think you'll need, then double it again.


Everything right is wrong and now right again.

Today, we were reviewing the recipes, and realised that many of them weren't nearly as good as they could be. The Korean Tofu Cutlets, for one, were ending up way too sweet, without enough spice, and you could hardly taste the ginger. What's the point of putting it in there if you can't taste it? The latkes were ending up falling apart. The yuba crunchies (that go atop the Four Seasons Salad) were ending up on the greasy side, even though they're not deep fried! What gives!?

We went ahead and poked around until we got things just right. Then we wrote down copious notes as to how to get it just right. And then we tested it again and again, until it was just right. It's days like these that remind me why I love cooking in the first place. It's like the greatest mystery novel ever: "How can I get that to taste like it did that one time, no not that time, the other time", but without the annoying cliffhangers, or diversions. When Bossman and I are working together, to perfect and refine the recipes, it's like the best parts of Chemistry class (the labs) and the best parts of toddling around behind my mum when she was in the kitchen, and asking me my opinion on how to refine such and such dish.

On the other hand, it's also massively rewarding, because I know that it'll mean that the people eating it are going to enjoy it so much more.

Y'see, recipes go through a sort of radioactive decay. Over time, like a game of Telephone, you start to lose the exact measurements, the exact techniques, the ingredients, etc. Every now and again, regardless of whether it's at home or in a professional kitchen, you need to tighten things up to make sure everyone's on her or his toes.

For example, there are recipes that I've made so many times that I'm a bit lax on the measurements. "Eh, it could use a titch more pepper", or "Why don't I add less cumin?" Then, as time goes on, the original recipe, though still bravely sitting around, starts to fade at the edges. Things get tweaked in the interest of expediency or time, and now the food no longer tastes right. The last incarnation (which, fortunately, didn't go out to the customers) of the Tofu Cutlets was just /sweet/ and nothing else. No ginger, no chile, no sesame. Just sweet. Gag.

We looked at the recipe, and realised that some of the kitchen folks would bump up the chiles a little, while others would use a different amount of maple syrup, and different amounts of fats. It was a mess.

The two of us went in, pens blazing, to fix those egregious errors. We tasted, we blended, we gingered. I know ginger isn't a verb. It is now. When you bump up 1 TB of ginger to 1/2 cup, it's a verb. Mind you, this is for 9 pounds of tofu, and it cooks a long time, so it's not like you're biting into a bag of gingery gingerness.

Sorry. Got carried away.

Anycow. We replaced some of the maple syrup with a bit of sucanat, twiddled the amounts of sesame oil and canola oil, and added a touch of salt, a bit more chile, and baked it way longer than before.

Perfection. Utter and complete perfection.

Until one of the guys tried to recreate it, and rather than laying down the slices of tofu in one neat layer, stacked a couple, because he had extras. And again, the blurring. So again, with the explaining and refining and making sure everyone gets everything right every time, so help us G-d. And again we go flying into the sublime. It's now crispy on the outside, slightly chewy, a little sweet, a bit salty, a light hint of ginger, a good kick of spicy, and ever so tasty. This is exactly what food should be. And then, served atop the steamed kale? Excellent.

This is why I cook.