Pancakes and cultural traditions

Status updates on Facebook from several friends reminded me that today is Shrove Tuesday, aka Pancake Day. Pondering the distribution of the updates, I noticed that most of them came from the UK, where I celebrated Pancake Day 2005. Prior to that, I wasn’t aware of Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day except as Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is the more common name for the day and celebration in the US — except, notably, as part of some church traditions, whence the remaining status updates about pancakes came.

Seeing all this and recalling fond memories of Pancake Day 2005, I decided to make pancakes tonight for dessert. But while eating them, I realized it’s a strange thing for me to do. It’s isolated from its UK cultural context because I’m in the US, and I don’t belong to the religious traditions that would make it appropriate for me to do it here.

Furthermore, Pancake Day started as a way to use up extra oil and eggs, or so says Wikipedia. But I made Vegan Dad’s sweet breakfast crepes, which have only a tiny amount of oil and no egg (being vegan). They’re also really crepes, obviously, not pancakes, but the pancakes I had in the UK were really a lot more like crepes anyway, so it made sense. (I actually used silken tofu rather than the flaxseed, and it worked just as well, maybe better, so that was a happy substitution.)

I also departed from tradition in using lime instead of lemon for the flavoring liquid (lemon and sugar is the usual).

Not a traditional way to celebrate the holiday, but maybe it’ll become my traditional way of celebrating it!

Easy creamy kabocha squash-cranberry penne with fennel

This isn’t so much a recipe because I didn’t actually write down the amounts, but I thought this turned out well and it was easy.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb penne pasta
1 large fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
1/2 kabocha squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-1″ chunks
A couple tablespoons each soymilk, Tofutti BTCC, and TJs Cranberry Apple Butter

Start the water for the pasta and squash. Simmer the squash until nearly fork-tender. Meanwhile, saute the fennel in the oil over medium heat until tender and browning. Add pasta to the water when it’s ready.

Add the squash to the pan and continue sauteing until the squash is tender. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Add a little salt and pepper.

When the squash is tender and everything is beginning to stick, add the soymilk, tofutti, and cranberry apple butter. Stir until well mixed and season to taste.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and mix the squash mixture with the pasta. Yum.

Sunset Salad

Clotilde’s Grated Carrots and Beets is a terrific way to try beets (raw or otherwise) if you are a little skeptical about them. But I don’t think it has a very good name; I always look for it under “Beet and Carrot Salad” before I remember that the name in English is a translation from French. Maybe it sounds more fun in French, but if someone told me “We’re having grated carrots and beets for lunch”, I wouldn’t be excited.

I have sunsets on the brain today, so I thought of a new and (imo) better name for it: Sunset Salad. It’s such a pretty meld of oranges, pinks, and reds that the name really works.

New year, new food.

I’ve been doing a good bit of cooking since I got back from my Christmas trip: squash and black bean empanadas, vegan crepes with fruit, chickpea curry.

Today I decided to try something new, the recipe just before the empanadas in Veganomicon: Autumn Latkes. These are latkes made with carrot, sweet potato, and beet shreds rather than plain potato shreds. I am generally a bit of a disaster at frying things, and these vegetables do not have as much native starch as plain potatoes do, so I was quite concerned. But I made small ones and they turned out fine. They’re quite toothsome compared to plain potato latkes, which tend to get a bit fluffy in the middle as the heat makes them fall apart and bind. They’re also sweet and flavorful. Definitely a great way to try beets if you, like me, are a tad ambivalent about their flavor.

The recipe lists the quantities (2 cups of beets, 1 cup each of the orange vegetables) but also gives numbers of vegetable required. I’m glad it included the quantities, because I apparently have a funny idea of what an “average size beet” is. Three of them are supposed to make two cups of shredded material. I had two beets: one that appeared “normal” to me, and one that was ginormous. Dave kindly dubbed them the Beet of Doom and the Harbinger of the Apocalypse. The Harbinger alone made 2 1/2 cups of shredded material. I have no idea what I’m going to do with the Beet of Doom, but I can say that the latkes don’t seem to have been suffered from their high content of Harbinging.

Isa’s recipe says to serve them hot, but although I tasted a few, I’m planning to eat them as leftovers, just reheating them in the toaster oven. I made her Roasted Applesauce from Vegan with a Vengeance to go with them, and added green beans for a healthful side. I’m looking forward to lunch tomorrow! I’ll try to post a photo, since I haven’t done that in a while.

Arugula!

After my first year of employment (I think first full year, but it doesn’t really matter to this story) I had saved more money than I expected. I was telling my mom this and that I really wasn’t sure how I’d done it, since I didn’t keep a good budget (I still don’t; it is something I really need to work on).

Later on we were talking about the farmer’s market and how sometimes the stuff there is really cheap and awesome (like beets and carrots and basil for $1 per relevant unit), and sometimes it’s expensive but worth it, but sometimes it’s just expensive. So then I don’t buy it, most of the time. Arugula [rocket, for you UK people], for example, is very expensive at the farmer’s market, and cheaper at Trader Joe’s — but I don’t actually buy it in either case, because it’s expensive at both places. So I joked that I saved all my money by not buying arugula.

But I do buy arugula sometimes, and whenever I do I remember why it’s sometimes worth it. It’s sour and peppery, and it’s so easy to make it into a tasty salad. This time I stuck an avocado I’ve had for a while, raspberries, walnuts, and red pepper into the bowl, and drizzled olive oil and balsamic vinegar over it. And it’s a slightly funny-sounding combination, but it just tastes GOOD, and has all these fun texture contrasts. The same salad with a not-arugula green wouldn’t be nearly as tasty.

And that’s why arugula is sometimes better than saving money.

Imam bayildi

When Barbara posted her recipe for Imam bayildi, as an eggplant lover, I knew I had to make it.

It is as good as she says it is. It is by no means low-calorie, but it is vegan and the main bulk of it uses seasonally-available eggplant and tomatoes. It is also kind of time-consuming to make, requiring long cooking and then chilling. Definitely a special-occasion or once-every-so-often dish, but totally, totally worth it. The sauce is like red velvet, and the combination of the eggplant with the sweet caramelized onions and tangy sauce is nicely complementary. The pine nuts provide a pleasant crunch. Highly recommended!

Recipe for inspiration

I haven’t been doing a lot of cooking lately, for various reasons, but one of the reasons is that in the summer when the farmer’s market is overflowing, looking at cookbooks rarely yields recipes that make maximum advantage of the ingredients I have, and I haven’t been feeling independently inspired or desirous of going shopping for random things I don’t have.

Today, though, I was looking at the eggplant in my fridge and thinking “I remember that Spanish cooking blog where they rolled up eggplant into little tubes of something. Maybe that would be good, but I want to make something more substantial…”

Anyway, I ended up consulting Veganomicon to see if they had anything like that. They did, but it is much too complicated for a weeknight. But that woke up my imagination and I started thinking about how to using a couple things in my fridge to make something similar, but easier: baked thin slices of eggplant with tomato sauce and tofu ricotta. Which handily gets rid of the extra canned tomatoes and the tofu that badly needed to be used.

I don’t know how it’ll turn out yet because it’s still in the oven, but it was nice to be reminded that cookbooks are useful for inspiration, even if you end up making something quite different to take maximum advantage of what you have.

My lunch today was similar, just something I threw together after looking at the fridge: arugula, tomato, and cucumber salad with cilantro. Grapes for dessert. And a Dapple Dandy pluot for snack while I wait for the eggplant. Yum. Some things don’t need any help being good.

Toronto: activities

What I actually did in Toronto:

The ROM. You can see one of the most interesting things about it from the website — the building was recently renovated and a “Crystal” added on to the front. It wasn’t as crystalline as I expected from the name, but it’s an interesting addition. The interface between the new and old buildings was what fascinated me the most. Inside, the shape of the galleries in the Crystal is conducive to exploring and more open than the traditional materials.

I was really impressed with the ROM in general. The presentation of the materials was very thoughtful, like the exhibit about the changing styles from the Middle Ages to the present. I know about the eras (Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, etc.) but their presentation of them illustrated the transitions and transformations very well.

I spent most of my first day in the museum, taking a break to eat lunch at Fresh on Bloor (admission for the museum allows multiple entrance and exit). The lunch was excellent and huge. I had a chickpea wrap and their signature sweet potato fries with miso gravy. The gravy was a bit intense, but everything else was great, and I saved half and ate it for dinner because there was so much. This was my favorite place I ate while I was in Toronto.

The link says “nontraditional vegetarian food”, but I actually saw it as kind of “traditional modern” in that it was a lot like what I would get in good vegetarian restaurants around here. But maybe that’s non-traditional for Canada!

That night I went to a Fringe comedy show called “Between Commutes”, which was a sketch show about the hassles of commuting. I was expecting a bit more of it to be about public transit, but some of the sketches were very funny, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The next day, after picking up the loaner bike and having coffee with the owner, who is wonderfully nice and generous, most of my day was taken up by a visit to Toronto Island. The island is car-free, so I took the bike on the ferry (the ferry was quite crowded with bikes) and rode around, looked at the lake, and relaxed in the park. It was nice to be away from cars, and everything seemed to run at a slower pace as everybody relaxed in the afternoon sun. I took a walk on a beach, and stopped briefly to swing on a swingset. I’m not sure I was supposed to be on the swingset, but no one stopped me, and I enjoyed the feeling of flying that I recalled from childhood.

On the way back, I ate at Urban Herbivore in the Kensington Market area. I had a sesame tempeh sandwich and a fresh juice (red juice — beets, apples, carrots, lemons, and ginger — which tasted wonderfully gingery but with good body from the vegetables). I wasn’t originally going to have any juice because it was expensive, but the server spontaneously refunded me my sandwich cost because he was slow to get it to me. It didn’t seem slow to me — I was writing in my journal and had only just started wondering when my sandwich might arrive when it did — but I appreciated their effort to hold themselves to a high standard, and felt that buying a juice when I wouldn’t have otherwise was a good way to return the kindness. The sandwich wasn’t the best, with the tempeh overly dry and salty, but the bread was excellent and the sandwich well-made overall, so I enjoyed myself. It was an interesting neighborhood to watch while I ate — it reminded me a little bit of the Mission.

Sunday I had a notion to go to a farmer’s market, so I decided to visit the Distillery District (history), but I got a slow start and the market was mostly gone when I got there. But I did see the old buildings and art galleries and studios full of quite fascinating art. My favorites were two artists working in encaustic, Joya Paul and Tanya Kirouac (Tanya’s site at tanyakirouac.com seems to be down). Both had some lovely flower/nature paintings. I also liked Thompson Landry gallery and Nathalie Maranda‘s paintings in that gallery.

That evening, I had a drink with the fun and inimitable Emily, whom I had missed while in Toronto five years ago. It was fun, and we talked animatedly about food, our jobs, and travel.

My last day, besides Urbane Cyclist, I went to Bakka Phoenix Books and LinuxCaffe. Both are Toronto landmarks, with Bakka Phoenix being the incubator of several Canadian SF talents including Cory Doctorow. LinuxCaffe, in their own words, “is a cozy corner caffe offering dark organic coffees, simply delicious food and pleasant surprises. It is also the home of Toronto’s Open Source software communities, hosting user group meetings, workshops and distributing free software.” It’s basically a friendly cafe with an open culture, lots of geeks, and a bunch of old software books. Very nice place, though it was quiet on Tuesday lunchtime in the summer.

That was my last stop before returning the bike and a brief visit to Union Station; then it was back to Pearson in time for a spectacular cloudburst, a delayed plane, and a fantastic sunset on takeoff.

Certified LAB cooking

As of today, I’m literally and officially certified Road I proficient by the League of American Bicyclists! I have a piece of paper that says so. I passed with flying colors.

I’m glad I took the class, because since then my road positioning has gotten more appropriately assertive, and I’m feeling more comfortable on the road because I know some evasive maneuvers.

On another subject: cooking. I haven’t been cooking a lot lately for various reasons (it’s been hot, I’ve been busy and away from the farmer’s market) but tonight I made something tasty and not very difficult. I’m going to do my best to recall exactly what I did, but as usual it’s not a very exact process. It tastes a lot like a chinese restaurant dish except light and fresh.

Spicy Eggplant in Brown Sauce
Vegetable oil
1 yellow onion
4 small Japanese eggplants
6 small or medium cloves of garlic
1-2 tbsp basil (6-10 leaves), chiffonaded
Soy sauce (~1/4 cup)
Mirin (~3 tbsp)
Water (~3 tbsp)
Corn starch (1/2-1 tbsp)
1/2 tbsp chili-garlic sauce (or to taste, but this is meant to be spicy*)

Chop the onion, and cut the eggplants into half-rounds about 1/4″ thick. Saute the onion in a tablespoon or two of oil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until browning and translucent. Add the eggplant and continue sauteing until the eggplant is mostly soft. Add the garlic and saute a few minutes until eggplant is done. Add a little soy sauce and/or mirin if necessary to deglaze the pan and keep everything from burning.

Add the basil and stir, then add the soy sauce, mirin, water, corn starch, and chili-garlic sauce. Stir, and bring to a simmer. Simmer 30 sec – 1 min or until the sauce thickens, then turn off the heat.

Serve with whatever you like with spicy Chinese-style dishes. I used rice noodles.

Yum.

*Not as in burns your mouth off, but as in, packing the heat. Whatever that means to you. Just don’t get between me and my chili garlic sauce.**

**It occurs to me that this should be spelled chile garlic sauce, because it’s made with chiles, not chili, but I always see it spelled chili garlic sauce (734K GHits to 465K GHits, and most of the ones for the latter are the same as the former), so, whatever.