Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tomato Time

The tomato harvest has begun in my garden. I planted a small slicing variety called Northern Delight Ultra Early, and they've lived up to their name...I started harvesting my first tomatoes about two weeks ago, which is early for tomatoes around here. I wasn't sure what to expect from this variety; I thought they might be bland, but they've turned out to be sweet, tasty little tomatoes.

They're good little producers too, each plant is putting forth dozens of tomatoes. And they bloomed out in intervals, so the tomatoes are coming on in succession, which is convenient. They're a nice size for canning too. I fertilized them with kelp extract when I transplanted them and again when they started to set fruit. I also sprayed them with a kelp extract tea, which they seem to have liked. Despite being overcrowded, they've come out robust and disease-free. Here's my messy little "tomato orchard," you can see that they are all in containers and are more crowded than is ideal for tomatoes:

We've been having a warm and sunny summer, which also helped bring on the tomatoes in a timely fashion. The squash and cucumbers are loving the heat too. I'm a little worried about my peppers though; I planted a miniature red bell variety. There are lots of little peppers, but they don't seem to be getting any bigger. Like the tomatoes, the pepper plants are bit overcrowded as well, and I suspect that's the culprit. I'm waiting to see what happens...I have a feeling that we're going to be eating lots of little green peppers.

The summer is going by quickly; I can't believe July is nearly out. :)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rainbow Food

From left to right: fresh tomatoes, black beans, sweet potatoes, avocado/cucumber/radish salad, and red cabbage with a coconut-lime sauce.

I saw a picture of this meal in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine at my mom's house. The photo was titled "Rainbow on a Plate" or something similar and, of course, was much more beautiful than the photo above. At any rate, it made me want to put together a simple plate of fresh, organic veggies. There was a recipe in the magazine, which I didn't bother to read, but rather just used the picture as a springboard.

The weather has been very hot lately, so not wanting to cook in the heat of the day, I soaked my beans overnight and cooked them first thing in the morning. I cooked the beans until they began to tender, then added some sliced garlic, olive oil, cumin, chili powder, salt/pepper, and a splash of cider vinegar, and let them simmer for ~ 30 minutes. I reheated them in the evening, but they would have been tasty cold or at room temp too.

I would normally roast the potatoes in the oven, but in this heat, I decided to throw them on the barbie instead. I used about two pounds of potatoes and glazed them with a mixture of 1/4 cup agave nectar, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, and a splash of Bragg's Liquid Aminos.

The sauce is plain coconut milk yogurt with a couple tablespoons of fresh lime juice, a dash or two of coriander, and salt/pepper to taste.

It was a perfect summer meal--light, but satisfying. We usually eat dinner after dusk fall, and as a result, my dinner pics are the worst of a bad lot: eerie pictures of food coming out of the darkness.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Almond Hyssop Cookies

These little biscuits are a perfectly-sized sweet treat to have with afternoon tea. I made these with blue anise hyssop from my garden, which is ever-so-slightly bitter with overtones of mint and anise. (If you don't have any hyssop, you could try mint flowers, lavender, or anise seeds)

This is a small batch; it makes ~24 half-dollar size cookies:

You'll need:

-- 1/2 cup sugar (I used raw cane turbinado, which gave them a golden-brown hue)
-- 1/8 cup anise hyssop flowers, removed from the stem
-- egg replacer for 1 egg ( I use EnerG brand)
-- 6 tablespoons of Earth Balance buttery stick
-- 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
-- 1 cup flour
-- 1/8 teaspoon salt
-- 1/2 cup almonds, raw or lightly toasted, chopped into small pieces

With a gentle hand, finely chop the hyssop flowers. In a mixing bowl, mix sugar and hyssop flowers until well combined.(Alternately, pulse sugar and unchopped flowers in a blender.) Prepare egg replacer according to package instructions and add to sugar/hyssop mixture. Add vanilla extract.

One tablespoon at a time, add Earth Balance, mixing until the sugar is well incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Combine flour and salt and add to bowl, mixing until just incorporated. Gently fold in the chopped almonds.

Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball; you may need to work in a bit more flour so the dough is firm enough for rolling. Divide dough ball into two pieces and roll each piece into a log, roughly 1 - 1.5 inches in diameter
Wrap dough logs in plastic wrap and allow to chill for at least an hour.

When the dough is firm enough to slice, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice dough into 1/4 inch rounds and place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes until biscuits just begin to golden.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Seattle - Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai

I've got a great restaurant to tell you about: Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood. We've been a few times now, and each time we've come away with really happy tummies and tastebuds! It's 100% vegetarian, so no fish sauce to worry about. There are plenty of vegan menu items, and most dishes can be made to order vegan simply by ordering a dish and requesting "no eggs." Anyway, the staff are super lovely and know precisely which items are de facto vegan and which ones can be ordered vegan.

We started with the appetizer special: Mieng Pak Gad, which was a mix of shitake mushrooms, tofu, bamboo shoots, carrots and cashews in a sweet/savory sauce. It comes with crisp, fresh lettuce, so you can make little lettuce rolls with the delicious Mieng Pak Gad as filling. It was total tastebud titillation.

The Papaya Salad went along very nicely; it had a fresh crunch, slightly tangy, and was accented with fresh tomato, green beans, and cashews:

For mains, I had the Tum Yum soup; all the ingredients were very fresh and the broth was wonderfully aromatic:

My friend had curry fried rice; he ordered it with eggs, but you could also order it vegan by requesting no eggs:

And here is the simple yet lovely table decoration:

After dinner, we wandered over to the Seattle Tilth Gardens, just a few blocks away.

A bed of borage, nigela, and other flowers in the Tilth gardens:

A spectacular bed of amaranth rising up towards the heavens:

Some echinacea:

The Tilth demo gardens in the early dusk:

Here's the Wallingford QFC super market...back in the 80's ( and prior), this was the much less posh and lower-scale Food Giant super market, a lost icon of old-school, off-the-map, Seattle:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mid-week Staple: BBQ Tofu

I know it's mundane, but BBQ tofu is a standard mid-week dinner in our house. It's quick and easy to prepare, and there's always a new BBQ sauce recipe to try. Our current favorite is Espresso BBQ Sauce from Vegan Appetite. If you haven't yet, my advice is to definitely give it a try.

Last night we had a simple, but delicious meal of BBQ tofu, chive and garlic mushrooms, steamed new potatoes, and summer squash. I sauteed the mushrooms in Earth Balance, tossed in some garlic, deglazed with white wine, let it reduce, and then added fresh chives just before serving. The new potatoes had a lovely taste of earth, and were delicious with a bit of tofu sour cream.

We like our BBQ tofu nice and firm, so I always use extra firm tofu, press it for 15-20 minutes to get some of the water out, and then pre-bake it with a drizzle of oil for about 15 minutes so it starts to brown. Finally, I coat the tofu with the BBQ sauce and pop it back in the oven until it's baked to perfection.

And, the best part of BBQ tofu may just be the leftovers. I like to make sandwiches with BBQ tofu, mustard, vegan mayo, spinach, and shredded carrot.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Weekend Dinners in Review

Friday al Fresco
Fridays are farmers' market day in our neighborhood, which means lots of fresh produce to cook with over the weekend.

We ate al fresco and had Pasta with Citrusy Cherry Tomatoes on a Bed of Very Lightly Steamed Green and Purple beans with Green Salad from the garden. The recipe is from

I veganized the pasta recipe using Earth Balance instead of butter and nutritional yeast in lieu of cheese. I also added patty pan squash... any summer squash would work well. The recipe is a keeper for us; the citrus zest pairs very nicely with the tomatoes.

Salad with lettuce, radish, and cucumber from the garden. And for dessert...locally grown organic blueberries and golden raspberries.

Saturday Stew

Saturday's fare was a Lentil and Aubergine Stew with Onion Bhajis and Wild Rice, Drizzled with Balsamic Vinegar Reduction.

In spite of the warm weather, I was hankering for some hearty food. The aubergine and lentil stew is a recipe from Jo Stepaniak's book, Vegan Vittles.

Vegan Vittles is a great cookbook for "vegan-beginners." In addition to a good spectrum of straightforward recipes, it includes extras like a synopsis of buying conventional vs. organic produce, Farm Sanctuary rescue stories, a guide to vegan alternatives to non-vegan ingredients, and animal-friendly sayings to use in lieu of the traditional. For example, instead of: "Stubborn as a mule." (mules are lovely!) say: "Stubborn as a stain."

You can find the onion bhaji recipe here.

Spaghetti Sauce Sunday

When I was growing up, Sundays meant spaghetti in our house. My mom put on a pot of sauce religiously every Sunday morning after breakfast...the smell of her delicious sauce wafted through the house all day. Hence, even now, Sundays are synonymous to pasta sauce for me. Just like my mom, I put on a pot of sauce after breakfast.

So, with the sauce I made Tofu Kale Lasagna. I used a Tofu Basil Ricotta recipe from PPK and added chopped, steamed kale to it. We ate it with broccoli and a fava bean and avocado salad.

Family Pasta Sauce Recipe

Everyone in our family makes it a little differently, but here is my version of mom's Sunday sauce:

(This is a small batch, serving 2-4, depending on portion size)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 onion, finely chopped
red pepper flakes to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
28 oz canned tomatoes (or fresh equivalent, blanched and peeled)
1 teaspoon oregano (or more to taste)
good-sized handful of fresh parsley, chopped, stems and all (~ 1 cup)
28 oz water + more to add as necessary
1/3 cup red wine (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped, fresh basil (optional)


Saute the garlic cloves, onions, and red pepper flakes in the olive oil until the onion and garlic begin to become tender. Add oregano, and saute for another 1-2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir into the garlic and onion mixture. Let this saute for several minutes, stirring frequently, but letting the paste brown a little on the bottom of the pan.

Add the tomatoes and bring the sauce to a simmer. (If the tomatoes are store-bought canned tomatoes, I add a small dash of sugar, depending on how acidic they are.) Add in the water and bring to a simmer again. Toss in the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Turn down the heat and let the sauce cook on low for several hours ( the longer the better) stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary to maintain the desired consistency. About halfway through, add the red wine.

A few minutes before serving, stir in the fresh basil. Sauce is even better the next day after the flavors have had time to meld. Mushrooms also make a nice addition.

And after getting some beds ready for mid-summer planting, I ended up with a rather lovely bouquet of cilantro and arugula blossoms. (my bad photography does it no really is quite pretty)

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Young Visitors

Lately, I've been welcoming some little newcomers to my garden...

cucumber cubs

preteen pumpkin

pip-squeak peppers

petite plum

tomato teenyboppers


cabbage kid

adolescent apples

Welcome one and all!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Never Give Up: A Story about Remarkable Thunderstorms

If you've read either of my previous posts through to the end, you've seen our cat, Cheeky. She is our beloved friend--a sweet, funny, caring, sensitive, playful, and curious individual. This is the story of how we met and how we stayed together.

The Streets of Dublin
Our paths first crossed on a fateful day in August 2003. My husband and I were living in Dublin, Ireland. As I was walking home from work along a busy street in Drumcondra, I noticed a group of people kneeling on the path and peering under a parked van. Of course, I had to stop and ask what they were doing.

"There's a kitten under the van; we're trying to lure her out. She'll be killed on this road."

A few people were jangling their keys in hopes that she would be drawn over by playful curiosity. But, she wasn't going for it. There was an in-and-out market nearby, so I went in, bought a pouch of cat food, opened it up...and voila...instant kitten. She was very thin and dirty, and she had a wound on one of her paws. It was obvious that she had been straying for a while, yet she couldn't have been more than eight to ten weeks old at the time.

I did an image search for Drumcondra Road, and I found a shot of the exact place I found her - in front of the Drumcondra Railway Station, near the Centra shop:

No sooner had she come out to eat than everyone quickly moved on and disappeared, leaving me on the kerb with a bedraggled kitty. I scooped her up, brought her home, and she settled in right away. I was touched by her trust and cheerfulness in spite of being so down-trodden.

The next day, having already fallen completely in love, I reluctantly put up some signs around the neighborhood announcing "Kitten Found." My husband and I kept our eyes peeled for any notices of lost kittens. Fortunately for us, no one surfaced and Cheeky was ours by default.

But alas, that wasn't the end of my sign-posting days...

The Thunderstorm
About two months later, Dublin weathered an intense thunder and rain storm that lasted for most of the day. It was a memorable day; the intensity and long-lived nature of the storm was remarkable.

Cheeky was still young and the only outdoor experience she had was playing within the walls of our terrace. This day, the thunder was roaring like cannons and she was frightened. Thoughtlessly, I left the bedroom window open, and in her startled state, Cheeky jumped out.

The Sign Posting
We searched in the rain for hours with no luck. We left food on the window luck. I posted signs on every available pole within a mile radius of our house. We got calls at all hours of the day and night: someone saw a kitten here, someone saw a cat there, but none of them turned out to be Cheeky. Every day, I walked up and down neighboring streets calling her name and rattling her favorite play sign of Cheeky.

Dublin aerial view...zooming in on lost-cat-posting radius area..."Do-do-do-do-do--Doo-do" (unfortunate EastEnders reference (lo siento))

After two months of searching, everyone, my husband included, was telling me to give up: "She's long gone." or "She probably got knocked down by a car."

I posted more signs in a wider radius, adding the details of the day she disappeared - the day of the intense thunderstorm, October 22.

Then, about ten weeks after she had gone missing, I got a phone call: "We have your cat... we have Cheeky."

They had seen one of my extended-radius signs and had a hunch it was her; they had taken in a young stray cat on the day of the thunderstorm. I went along to see...and there she was.

So now, if anyone I know has a missing pet I always tell them to keep searching, don't give up.

The Trans-Atlantic Journey
We've since relocated to North America, and Cheeky became an international feline. We flew Air Canada, because it was the only airline that would allow non-human animals in the cabin on a trans-Atlantic flight.

Here's her European Pet Passport...what a worldly kitty, my Drumcondra kitty, my Cheeky:

Now, as I think back on that day in 2003, it was quite a coincidence that I was walking on Drumcondra Road at that time. I normally walked home a completely different way, which pre-empted any occasion to be on Drumcondra Road. But that day, I needed to deposit my paycheck on the way home. My usual bank branch was closed for a remodel, and the next closest branch was on Drumcondra Road...just blocks from where I met Cheeky.

If you've managed to get this far,thanks for reading. I know it's not terribly gripping or extraordinary, but I just had to post it-I love telling this story.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Soba Noodle Salad with Shiso

I first heard of shiso this past spring from an herbalist. It's a pretty japanese herb in the mint family (perilla frutescens var. japonica) also known as perilla. Apparently, it is higher in rosemarinic acid than rosemary itself, and as such, is a natural anti-inflammatory. It is also a source of Omega 3 fatty acids. All in all, this plant sounded interesting to me, so I decided to grow some.

There are both green and purple varieties; I'm growing a purple one:

Now, aside from medicinal uses, I'm trying to figure out how to use it.
To me, it tastes slightly bitter and a bit like cumin, which got me thinking that it might go nicely with sun-dried tomatoes. I made a pesto with shiso, sun-dried tomatoes, cashews, and red miso paste...let's just say the recipe needs a little work. The best thing I can say about it is that it's anti-inflammatory.

I'm sure someone with a dabber hand in the kitchen than me could come up with a good shiso pesto. Meanwhile, I took an alternative route with the shiso, and tossed some into a soba noodle salad, which worked out a lot better than the pesto. The shiso added a cuminy, slightly acidic dimension.

Tofu and Soba Noodle Salad with Purple Shiso in an Orange & Ginger Dressing

(Apologies for the bad food photography...I'm trying to improve.)

I'll be trying to think of other ways to use shiso...but in the meantime, here's Cheeky nestled in a bag of potting soil. sentiments exactly: a big yawn. I love it when she yawns--she puts every ounce of her energy into it.

Happy Weekend!
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