Saturday, July 31, 2010

Kale "sauerkraut"

I've been loving my sister's new barbarian cooks blog with fun ideas for kale. But when I was ultra-lazy, pressed for time, and eating solo for dinner one night last week, I came up with another fun thing to do with that huge bag o' greens: sauteed a big pile of those suckers in a pan, added a splash of vinegar, a splash of water, and spoonful of mustard. I let it cook down all soft and smooshy while I microwaved a Trader Joe's Italian vegetarian sausage and toasted a tasty hot dog roll from my neighborhood butcher, A & J Meats*. I put it all together, and it tasted DELICIOUS!

*I walk by this wonderful butcher pretty much any time I'm going anywhere. Everyone who works there is informative, helpful, and kind. I keep going in just to buy hot dog rolls and mustard. I feel like I have to explain myself somehow... Would it be weird if I told our butcher I'm vegan? I feel guilty that I'm not giving this local, family business as much money anymore. They are really good people! And they have great meats for all you Seattle-area omnivores!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Reader Confession

I set the timer on our microwave so I don't read away the whole morning when I don't have to work until the afternoon. Today, while reading Matterhorn, I originally set it for 90 minutes. Then another 40 more... then another 40... and I still kept reading. I wasn't at all productive, but the Marines are in a hot zone!!! How can I leave them to go to work?

Vegetarian Confession

I hate fennel.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mexican chocolate "Que Sopresa" cookies

I'm baking a new cookie now, and I just sampled. So far, so good: I do want more immediately.
I was going to make vegan poop nuggets (the name really caught on in our household), but the bananas I have in the house aren't ripe enough for smooshing. I glanced around, "What to smoosh?" How about... an avocado? Que Sopresa!

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 tsp cocoa powder
2 tsp cinnamon

1 large, ripe avocado, smooshed (or 1 1/2 little ones)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp rice milk
2 dashes habanero sauce (another surprise)

about 1/8 cup coconut flakes
1/3 cup chocolate chips

I had to use my hands to mix these. I formed balls o' cookie dough and baked them for 16 minutes at 325.

"The Lost Symbol"

Since I had a day to my lonesome, I've been trying to get through borrowed books! I've had this on loan from a friend for a loonnng time... Here's the verdict on "The Lost Symbol:"
Dan Brown, what piffle!
I know this is not meant to be great literature, but-- really? The starry-eyed descriptions of noetic science and the Masons made me laugh out loud. Don't even get me started on the tall, sinister, tattooed eunuch villain... Maureen Dowd picked out some choice passages in her NYT book review, but I still wasn't prepared for the sheer ridiculousness of this book.
Maybe Brown was trying to make Langdon more relatable, but he come off as rather thick in this novel. WHY does he keep willfully ignoring or just plain missing just about every major clue? I guess it's supposed to teach us about the dangers of not believing, the blinders we put on when we only consider what we think we know if verifiable, but UGH, the man is a Harvard professor! And he's supposed to be our hero! Let him come up with something other than MAGIC SQUARES, for chrissakes! (Perhaps I'm jaded, but when one of the big reveals in a Dan Brown book is the same as one in a kids' book published a year earlier, I have to think Mr. Brown is kind of phoning it in.)
I may have forgiven all if the pacing had been right. Brown has kept me going from chapter to chapter with breathless incredulity. Not this time. OK, I'll grant that chapter 9 ended well: "Someone was screaming." That kept me going. But chapter 4 ends with Mal'akh's thought/sentence fragment, "A gift for the one man on earth who can help me obtain what I seek"(p. 20). OOOOH, chilling, right? Then chapter 5 starts off with, "The world's largest and most technologically advanced museum is also one of the world's best-kept secrets." (p.21) This feels like a third grader reporting on the Smithsonian, not a masterful suspense writer toying with his readers. Put the two missteps together in the pages I would hope had been most polished by an author and his editors, and I almost decided to move on to another book.
I agree with a customer who chatted with me about the book the other day: the architectural tour of DC we get is fascinating, but the plot and puzzles in this thriller just fell flat. And the characters are ridiculous.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I was very curious, so I'm glad I read it (quickly), but I'm also really grateful that this is a book I borrowed and didn't buy.
Maybe I'm just bitter that we solved the "Da Vinci Code" puzzles and didn't win the "prize more valuable than gold" of having our names used as characters in this book... but I think I'm glad to have been just a dissatisfied reader of this rather than a fictional participant!

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Crossed Bones" aka "The Tenth Gift"

I just finished a swashbuckling romance (but not the Fabio-cover kind) lent to me by a kind customer. She picked it out of the piles at our galley giveaway and was very pleasantly surprised. It's by Jane Johnston, and the published title is The Tenth Gift I'm going to go on record: I prefer the piratical "Crossed Bones" as a title; the published title isn't explained until most of the way through the book, and it just kept reminding me of slimeball character Michael, the adulterous husband-of-her-best-friend who dumps contemporary heroine Julia. (He gives her an exquisite antique book as parting gift, but then, a-hole that he is, spends the rest of the book trying to get it back.)
The novel has two related narratives: Julia's life in London and Cornwall, and the life of Cat, a 17th century Cornish woman who is abducted by Salee pirates! They are connected through Cat's book/journal and their shared love of embroidery. The dual narrative kind of reminded me of "Julie & Julia" in that the contemporary character's story line was less compelling for much of the book than Cat's incredible journey. Things did get spiced up in today's world, though, and romance blossoms in both.
This was a fun and engaging novel that taught me more about the history of Cornwall, pirates, and the corsair culture. Fascinating and entertaining light fare!

Home alone Friday night dinner

While J's away on his run 'round Washington, I'm cooking for one. Before, that probably would have meant leftover rice, frozen limas, maybe with some spinach or an egg for dinner. (That was before turning semi-vegan.) Quick and easy would be the rule.
Now that we're mostly vegan, I feel that every meal has to count nutritionally. Plus, we just got a great delivery of delicious, fresh, locally-grown vegetables. So tonight's dinner in progress is:
chard and various "farmers' choice greens" cooked with garlic, shallots, olive oil, garbanzo beans, a touch of vinegar, and dried cherries and almonds for a touch of the exotic! I'm going to serve all that over a bed of leftover quinoa. On a nice plate, with a tall glass of watermelon juice refresher (watermelon juice with sparkling water and mint leaves from the backyard).
N, you'll appreciate this: the curly kale always makes me remember Gus the iguana. No monkey chow in my meal tonight, though.

Heist Society: superfun

It may look like I haven't been reading or eating much, but au contraire! I've just been so busy doing both, plus working, that I haven't posted much. Sorry, my three faithful followers. I'll try to be better.
I zipped through teen novel Heist Society by Ally Carter. Delightful con romp. I do love a great art heist! This feels like "The Thomas Crown Affair" meets STORM meets "Ocean's Eleven" with teenagers. Kat comes from a family of cons and thieves-- the classy, awe-inspiring kind. Her billionaire friend/ accomplice Hale frames her to get her kicked out of her first attempt at normal life, Colgan boarding school, but that's nothing compared to the frame job someone has done of her father: a seriously evil man is convinced that Kat's dad stole priceless (Nazi-tainted) masterpieces from his undermoat secure art lair, and Kat has two weeks to return the paintings before dire consequences ensue. Yes, I did write "undermoat secure art lair." There was a mini-sub involved. It's that kind of book-- LOVED it!
My favorite thing about the book was Kat's crew and their clockwork precise planning. I cracked up as the kids threw out ideas of different cons to try, all with hilariously evocative names: "the Ben Franklin," "the Princess Bride" ("But where would we get a six-fingered man on such short notice?"), "Dog in a Bar..." Most of them go unexplained, which makes it even funnier to me.
The globe-trotting adventure is dizzying, the teens are full of hijinks and even some romance, and the whole idea of kids as pros in the heist underworld was just delightful. I hope Carter writes more about Kat and her crew. Kat, don't just go back to Colgan yet, I beg!

Two Smiling Feet

So this isn't about reading or eating, but I just had to share a new joyful obsession: Chinese foot massage at Two Smiling Feet in Fremont. We went last week and were amazed-- the experience was very much like our one in Beijing (although minus the private room/ pirated DVD/ free snacks). It was so much more than a foot massage! We got a lovely head rub (including some hair yanks that felt scary but good), amazing foot reflexology work, plenty of time on the ankles and calves, and even some thigh and hip massage. Then they flipped us over and gave us great attention to shoulders, back, and bottom. J and I were both extremely pleased. The masseurs/ masseuses were professional, thorough, and extremely intuitive: they gave J's marathon-training calves more work than mine, whereas my left heel (which had been giving me some twinges) got some extra-tender extra care (without me mentioning it).
We got frequent-client cards which I think had a phone number on them, but they're both in Jordan's wallet somewhere on his big Ragnar relay run... The salon is located in the heart of Fremont, just around the corner from the Lenin statue. I highly recommend stopping by!
(The current unbelievable price is $30 for an hour! Great value!!! Plus we'll earn a free massage after 9 on our little card, I think. Yowzah!)

*Here's their phone number from the card: 206-595-7768. The address is 600 N. 36th St.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chocolate chip cookies made with vanilla soy yogurt

A little weird, but good, too. The dough was sticky and felt very much like bread. This will need some adjustments, but I don't feel bad feeding them to people at a get-together tonight. I kind of can't believe how low-fat and relatively healthy they must be.

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
a little less than 1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon

1 single serving container of vanilla soy yogurt
a little less than 1/2 cup sugar
a little less than 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla
a splash of almond milk

1/2 package of chocolate chips

I cooked these at 325 for about 16 minutes. I tried the first batch at 350, but the edges got dark a little too quickly for my taste. (I formed the cookies with my hands for the first batch, but they were so sticky, there's kind of a hedgehog look going on. Cute, but hard on the roof of the mouth. For the other batches, I used spoons to shape the cookies.)

Tip: Stretching leftovers with veggies

We tried the delicious and hospitable Ho Ho Seafood Restaurant in the International District Sunday night-- couldn't resist the name, even though we weren't in a seafood mood. We loved the special vegetarian hot pot the owner made for us, and the vegetarian lo mein was very good-- but a little greasy when it came to leftover time. This is where the tip comes in: I added fresh peas and bite-sized pieces of fresh broccoli to the to-go containers (the traditional Chinese takeout kind, without the wire handle) before I microwaved for a minute and a half or two. I shook and stirred everything up before plating, and TA DA! More food, and better for me! The result is lower in sodium, lower in fat, and higher in nutritional value for each serving.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Bitter in the Mouth" by Monique Truong

I would not have read this novel if I hadn't been invited to a dinner with the author. (THANK YOU, Random House! I'm looking forward to it!) Why not? It's kind of a family saga; I don't usually think I like family sagas. (Although I really do like them if they're edgy enough, i.e. The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalladr, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz). It's also set in the South. I don't mean to offend, but for some reason, I also don't think I usually like novels set in the South. (Again, there are big exceptions: To Kill a Mockingbird and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, for example.) The third strike? The main character is a Yale grad. (Ha! Just kidding! Kind of...)
Despite those prejudices, I am so glad I am reading this! I had heard wonderful things about Truong's previous novel, The Book of Salt, so I knew I would be able to find something nice to say to her if I got to sit near her by the author dinner. Oh, will I ever!
The title refers to the fact that the narrator, Linda, has synesthesia that makes her taste words as she hears and speaks them. (This is quite different from the girl who can taste emotions in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, but I do find myself wanting to read Bender's book just to think about these characters who are so affected by taste.) This element of the story is fascinating, but it is sometimes distracting as well-- during dialog, we read the words and the tastes they evoke to Linda. Example: "Did youcannedgreenbeans readpotatochips it?" I understand that the tastes are distracting and disorienting to Linda, but they're even more so to a reader. Yes, it helps us empathize with her sometimes-torment with the "incomings" (taste perceptions linked to words), but because the tastes are not really linked to the words themselves, I am starting to skip/skim the italicized words. And that bothers me a little, because Truong is such a good writer that I have to believe that every word is deliberate, and I should give every word its deserved attention. Like Linda, I have to anesthetize myself somewhat, and that bugs me sometimes.
But there's so much to savor in this book, too!
I love, love, love Linda's friendship with neighbor Kelly. Their letters to one another remind me of childhood correspondence that deepened friendships in my life. I also adore Linda's great uncle Baby Harper. He will be dancing in my mind long after this book is over!
I have about 50 more pages to go. I'm not rushing to finish it because I want to linger. It's that kind of novel. Ahhhh.
It will be on sale August 31. If it sounds good to you, please make your local independent bookseller extremely happy by pre-ordering a copy of Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong!

New cookies

I am thinking of calling these new cookies "vegan poop nuggets" so every time I offer them to people, they say, "No, thank you," and let me eat the rest of the batch.
We'll see how they are when they're not all gooey from the oven-- they may harden when they cool. But right now, they're delicious!

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt (maybe a little too much?)
1 tsp baking powder
4 tsp cocoa powder

1 large ripe smooshed banana
an underpoured 1/2 cup of sugar
same underpoured, loosely packed 1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 overflowing tsp of vanilla
just shy of 1/3 cup canola oil
4 large pinches of coconut flakes

1/3 cup chocolate chips

Combine the first grouping of ingredients (dry) in a medium bowl. Combine the next grouping of ingredients in a larger bowl. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ones. Use your hands to mix it all up. Add a splash of coconut milk if it's feeling too dry. It looks like you have poop hands now, right? Now mix in the chocolate chips! Roll by the spoonful in your hands to make nugget-like cookies (or flatten them into traditional cookie shape) and bake on a silicone baking liner on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 11-17 minutes, depending on how big and round your cookies are.

Eat some right after they're cool enough to transfer to the wire rack. Start contemplating more off-putting names for these cookies while they're tasting so dastardly delicious.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Plum: perfect!

Saturday night, we fell in love with Capitol Hill's Plum Bistro, an elegant all-vegan restaurant. How exciting to have a full menu we could feel good about! How delightful to have so many delicious, inspiring tastes and combinations! This is meatless/animal-protein-less dining at its best, with local ingredients, creative presentations, chic decor, and a gorgeous cocktail list, too.
We each picked a cocktail for the evening: a jalapeno margarita for J, with a nice kick of spice and tequila, and "Oh My Goddess" alcoholic strawberry lemonade with basil and vodka for me. (This would be heavenly virgin, too.)

We picked the "Spicy Mac-n-Yease" appetizer at the recommendation of our server. I don't think she was exaggerating when she said that some people come to Plum just for this appetizer. It was a good-sized serving of pasta in an I-can't-believe-it's-not-cheese creamy, zesty sauce. Seems like everyone's been trying an upscale mac and cheese on their menu in the last few years, but I think this may be my favorite! (And it's VEGAN?!?) Breadcrumbs add a touch of crunch, but it all went down way, way too easily for something so rich. We weren't kidding when we asked if they sold this in bulk. (Well, I wasn't.)

My entree was the one currently pictured on the restaurant's home page: orange-balsamic glazed tempeh served over Thai-spiced mashed yams, with bitter greens. The tempeh was a firm consistency, with a crispy almost grilled feel to the edges. The glaze was a perfect blend of acidic and sweet, and the spicy (gingery, peppery) yams were the ideal partner. Soft, simple, flavorful greens (not bitter, but savory) filled out the plate. The portion was large and oh so satisfying.

Jordan ordered the "el besito caliente" burger. He was impressed that even though the menu described the filling as "tofustrami," it wasn't really trying to be pastrami, nor was the sandwich battling for burger dominance-- it was a delicious, balanced sandwich on its own terms. It did look a little messy, so I didn't try to swoop in for a bite. It was served with fries (not potato, but I'm not quite sure what root veggie they were)-- good, but not the best, as they were a little flaccid for my taste.

Many other intriguing items on the menu mean that we need to come back again and again. We're both very excited about the Zen Plate, "rice noodles in a ginger-shiitake mushrom broth
served with sautéed black pepper parsley, fresh cabbage, soft tofu & edamame w/ hot chili oil," and the Black Pepper-Battered Red Potato Parmesan, plus seitan steak with mushroom gravy, the "crazy Jamaican burger" served with plantains, and individual pan pizzas. There are also whole lunch and breakfast menus I haven't even seen yet! All is vegan, and several choices are also gluten-free. (N&B: we're going here next time you visit!!!)

A great night out often ends with dessert, and this was no exception. Tofu cheesecake for me, mango frozen soy treat for J. Yum! Although I thought it funny that the waiter couldn't use air quotes when he delivered our "ice cream" and "cheesecake" (his hands were too full).

Also kind of funny: the many typos on the cocktail menu, as if it had been typed up after sampling many, many choices, and having to finally pick and describe the favorites. "Agave necteer," "strawberies," and "lemmons" all put in an appearance. It says a lot when I smile at typos and think they just add to the charm of a place-- everything Plum did put me in that kind of a good mood.

Word to the wise: EAT HERE. But when you go, know that Plum is to the right (Suite B), and La Spiga is to the left (Suite A) at the same address (1429 12th Ave).

Warning to friends: If you ask me, "Where should we go out to eat?," if I'm feeling capable of leaving the Hill, I'll want to go to Plum.

Even if you aren't vegan, try Plum-- they are cooking delicious, creative food for everyone; it just happens to not have any animal proteins.