Sunday, July 17, 2011

(Almost Vegan) Vegan Cold Cut Sandwich

To clarify, it's the sandwich that's almost vegan, not me. I'm nowhere close to vegan. I'm not even vegetarian. I tried being vegetarian years ago, and it's not for me. I have a lot of respect for people who are ethical vegetarians, but it's not part of my belief system.

I acknowledge that, like most meat-eaters in America, I eat too much animal product. It's not healthy, it's not sustainable, it's wasteful. Whether you think eating animal products is ethical or not, sometimes it's a good idea to eat a handful of soybeans instead of feeding the soybeans to a cow and then eating the cow.

This recipe was inspired by the Tofu Cheese one at Serious Eats, but I've played with it a bit. The end result is a loaf of tofu with a chewy, crumbly texture and a salty, savory flavor that tastes a bit like lunch meat. Not a specific lunch meat, but lunch meat in general. When sliced and added to a vegetable sandwich, it adds that essential something most vegetable sandwiches are missing.

Part I - Prepare Your Tofu
  • 1 block of tofu
Step 1: Freeze your tofu - In the container, in the water, overnight. You can skip this step, but it really does improve the tofu's texture.
Step 2: Defrost your tofu
Step 3: Press your tofu - Wrap it in paper towels or a kitchen towel. Sandwich it between two cutting boards or unbreakable plates, and put weights (I use books or cans of beans) on the top layer. I like to press it a full 24 hours so the tofu gets really flat and compact and dry.
Ghostly backlight optional
Part II - Prepare Your Marinade
  • 1/3 cup miso paste - This is the stuff miso soup is made from. You can find it at Asian grocery stores and many conventional supermarkets, near the tofu.
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. mirin
  • 1 tbsp. sake
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. to 2 tbsp. optional additional seasonings of your choice - Minced garlic? Sure. Red pepper? Go ahead. Grated onion? Great idea. I'd advise making the basic recipe once, then going whole hog with experimenting. It's a forgiving process.
Step 1: Mix all of your marinade ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until combined, and keep stirring until the mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat. It will look somewhere between peanut butter and caramel sauce.
Step 2: Transfer half of your miso mix into a container that will snugly contain your pressed tofu block. If you've saved your tofu container, all the better.
Step 3: Put your tofu on top of the miso mix, then cover with remaining miso mix. Make sure all of the tofu is covered, turning it around a few times if you have to.
Step 4: Cover and refrigerate.

Part III - Wait
Let the tofu sit in the miso mix for at least 12 hours, preferably overnight, and even longer if you can stand it. It only gets more flavorful as time goes by.

Part IV - Make Your Sandwich
You already know how to do this, I hope. Two pieces of bread, stuff between. Slice the tofu loaf into slices less than a half inch thick, and put the leftover brick right back into the miso mix. The sandwich in the picture above has mayo (that's why it's not vegan), sliced tomato, lettuce (picked from the garden before it died), and thin slices of onion.

You can also dice the marinated tofu loaf and add it to stir-fries or salads. Or just eat slices straight up while you're snacking out of the fridge.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tomorrow's Lunch: Wheat Berry Salad with Cranberries and Almonds

A family that was out of town last week gifted us their CSA pick-up. It was great, because we opted not to subscribe to a CSA this year, and I'd forgotten how much fun it is to be assigned food I'd never think to buy. It also reminded me of why we don't subscribe to a CSA anymore, because it fills up our fridge with unfamiliar vegetables that are most delicious cooked when it's too hot to cook, and leads to tense discussions that include statements like "We already have so much food here," and "Fine, we'll have salad."

The lot included a brown paper bag that rattled when I shook it. Organic popping corn? Locally grown coffee? Nope - wheat berries. They look like barley and the internet disagrees as to whether or not they need to be soaked before cooking. I avoided the issue entirely and used the slow cooker, one of the most useful items in my kitchen because it lets me cook things without heating the place up during the summer. (We don't have air conditioning.)

So, into the slow cooker:
  • 3 cups chicken stock (Because we always have jars of chicken stock in the fridge. If you're not in the habit of boiling carcasses, use veggie stock or water with some salt and a big spoonful of whatever dried green stuff you have in your spice cabinet. You'll be fine. This isn't rocket science.)
  • 1 cup uncooked wheat berries (Do heed the warning that they're a natural product that should be looked over carefully because they may contain stems. I found stems.)
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Stir to combine. Make sure the slow cooker is plugged in, then walk away and do other things. I used the time to buy dried cranberries, eat something else for dinner, write a sketch, and watch Sondheim teach on YouTube.

(Best watched at home alone, so you can wear your headphones and sing along without embarrassment.)

After three and a half hours, come back, and add:
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened dried cranberries (Be sure to complain that the unsweetened kind are a full dollar more per pound than the sweetened kind.)
  • 1/4 cup almond pieces (Because pistachios were too expensive.)
Let it sit plugged in another half hour while you watch more YouTube.

(I like the "dolphin, dolphin, dolphin, dolphin" part.)

Drain and let cool. While it's cooling, mix up the dressing*:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice (Fresh-squeezed if you're feeling like a martyr, but the stuff in the bottle won't kill you.)
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp mustard
  • 7 mint leaves, cut into a chiffonade if you're practicing your knife skills and just torn up into little pieces if you're not.
Toss with the stuff you already cooked. Makes two lunch-sized portions.

*This makes a little more dressing than you need. Save the rest for one of the other salads you're going to have to eat later in the week.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Friend, the Hippopotamus

One of the families I'm working with has introduced me to a wonderful book, Sandra Boynton's But Not the Hippopotamus.
The plot is intricate, but I'll do my best to summarize. See, there are all these animals - a dog, a hog, a cat, some rats, a moose, a goose, a bear, a hare. And they're doing all these great things - cavorting in a bog, trying on hats, drinking juice, going to a fair. They're all having tons of fun, all out in the open, loving life and drinking Pepsi. But every page or two, you see this zaftig character hiding behind something, looking apprehensive, and we're told that whatever kind of frivolity everyone is partaking in, there's someone who's not playing - the hippopotamus.

Now - SPOILER ALERT! - on the next-to-last page everyone asks her to join in, and after some deliberation she does. Yes, the hippopotamus plays! (But not the armadillo, seen on the last page looking sad and confused. )

Why the pause, hippopotamus? Why choose to be lonely and not join in the fuss? Afraid if you spoke no one would laugh at your joke? Were you popular once but now feel like a dunce? Worn down by your day and too tired to play? Too busy with your job? Are you just a stuck-up snob?

I've been on many sides of this situation. I've been the cat, out partying with the rats, wondering what the hell is up with the hippopotamus. Why is she standing there glaring at us? If she wants a hat, she should try on a hat. My life is too busy for drama like that. I've been the moose, drinking hard with the goose, so caught up in listening to him rant that I don't notice the mammal hiding behind the houseplant. I've been the bear, out with the hare, expressing to him that I really do care about the hippopotamus. I wish that she felt like she could join in with the lot of us.

Today, thanks to things that are going on around me, I feel like the hippopotamus. There's fun and I'm not part of it. These dozens of words about it aside, it's not really a big deal. It's taken me a long time to learn the platitude "don't take it personally" applies in these situations, though it's going to take me even longer to learn not to take it personally. People don't have fun for the express purpose of making others feel left out, at least not most of the time, not after high school.

Pages will turn and there will be another picture, one where I'm wearing the party hat (not the pity party hat) and drinking a milkshake. The dog and the hog and the cats and the rats and the moose and the bear and the goose and the hare and the hippopotamus and I will be tagged in Facebook photos and everything will be fine. But it won't, not for everyone. Because even when your problem is resolved, hippopotamus, there's still the question of the armadillo.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Only Miss the Turtle Food

We got rid of the cable in December. I never thought I'd do it. I loved cable from the moment we got it, back when Nickelodeon only aired until 7 pm and then A&E took over that place on the box; back when the cable box didn't have a remote and operated through buttons and switches:

The few times that I lived in dorm rooms or apartments that couldn't get cable service, I cursed the lack of entertainment and vowed that I'd never be without the Food Network again. I love TV. It has been my friend, my mentor, my pacifier.

My husband grew up in the woods didn't feel the same way. Although he's come to enjoy some nightly staring at the screen, I grew to agree with him that most of what was on was unwatchable crap. Even my beloved Food Network had gone to hell, just show after show about edible sculpture and binge eating.

We got rid of the cable service and switched to AppleTV. For the first week or two I missed the variety, but I have grown accustomed to it and I have seen the light. It is better. Life is better. I watch less, but I enjoy it more. Except for the shows I watch on my laptop (see below), I haven't seen a commercial in seven months. The only one I miss is one for a local business called Pet Cabaret. They carry Turtle Food. (TURTLE FOOD!)

The new system costs less than cable. The device itself was $99. Our monthly subscription to Netflix is about $10, and because it streams on AppleTV I can watch all the reruns of The Cosby Show or Cheers that my heart desires. (My heart desires about a half hour of each every two weeks.) We subscribe to The Daily Show and The Soup for very reasonable prices. I've purchased entire seasons of America's Next Top Model because I find I can watch them over again, marathon-style. I've started following several shows on ABC Family at $.99 per rented episode.

(Yes, I'm 33 years old and still watching shows about teenagers. What can I say? The writing is better than you'd expect. Huge had smart discussions about body image, gender identity and religion; Switched at Birth intelligently explores Deaf culture and features a sex-positive teenage girl who hasn't -yet- decided to become a born again virgin; Make It or Break It is about gymnastics!!!)

I've become more discriminating. When you're flipping channels, it's easy to rest on a show and give it time. It's even easier to waste a full hour with flipping. With this system, I have to commit up-front to 23 or 44 minutes with a set of characters. There are some shows I just won't pay to watch. (Hello, Teen Mom. I find your exploitative/entertaining qualities in questionable balance, so I'll be watching you on my laptop.) A new episode of The Family Guy isn't worth $.99, since the jokes won't be any fresher than the old ones already on Netflix.

It wasn't all AppleTV. LOST changed my viewing habits forever, making me more demanding of the product and less tolerant of crap. I want more quality TV, and I'm willing to pay for it. I want to vote with my entertainment budget, paying only for the shows I watch. I don't want to pay for the Golf Channel, or Fox News, or Home Shopping, or real or fake housewives from any city.

The system isn't perfect. I suspect there are shows I'm missing out on, because there are no commercials to tell me about them. I don't know what I'd do if a good show were airing on CBS or some other no-mans land. I've had to add some shows I enjoy to my Facebook feed just to keep up with the news, thus telling the entire world that I'm a regular viewer of Make It or Break It (it's about gymnastics!!!).

My TV is dark a lot more than it used to be. It is still a friend and mentor, but rarely a pacifier. I don't keep it on for company. Which isn't to say I've grown lonely. I have NPR.