tempeh two ways

Besides the “stuffed” part, these two recipes have little to do with our Canadian Thanksgiving up in Ottawa this past weekend. Fermented soy beans don’t have much in common with turkey and pumpkin pie, but somehow, last week’s discovery of tempeh reminded me of all I have to be thankful for.

The weekend was a cornucopia of food delights. Friday we scarfed injera and doro wat at an Ethiopian restaurant with an old friend of mine. After a delicious brunch at my aunt and uncle’s, Mark and I indulged all afternoon in delicious home-roasted coffee and mile-high ginger cookies — this time, the old friends were his.

All that food fueled a good cause— the true highlight of the weekend. On Sunday morning I hit a personal best half marathon time at the Ottawa Fall Colours Marathon. With the hubby’s support and 8 weeks of hard training, I achieved a time of 1:51:35. Knocking 2 minutes a mile off my last half marathon time made me finally feel like a woman who doesn’t just finish. She races.

It was a great way to begin a day stuffed with turkey, cabbage gratin, and pie (of which there were multiple slices).

And there were other, non-homemade treats. Sunday, at one of Ottawa’s esteemed Bridgehead coffeehouses, we got to try Clover coffee for the first time.  A late lunch at Von’s Bistro in the Glebe chased down the luscious mugs nicely. Both get five Fresh Cracked Pepper stars.

As I got to thinking about what I’m thankful for, a few things came to mind. One, the incredible variety of food available to me here, today. I’m so grateful to be able to sample the abundance of the world so freely, and so relatively cheaply. This brings me to my latest discovery and the topic of this post: tempeh (pronounced temp-ay), my latest experiment with a new plant-based protein source.

Tempeh is an old food. It’s been made for centuries in Indonesia from fermented soy beans, and it’s more nutty and chewy than even the firmest tofu.

I tracked some down at the Syracuse Real Food Co-op, and quickly discovered that tempeh can be used just about anywhere: stir-fries, burritos, pastas, and sandwiches are all worthy vessels. It’s low in fat and high in protein, and best of all, it’s fermented. (Yes, I have a thing for fermented things. Case in point.)

I searched for a few tempeh recipes online, and taking a pinch of inspiration from this one, concocted fajitas that showcased tempeh’s satisfying chew (pictured above). The next day I mixed up the leftover filling and stuffed it into poblano pepper halves, one of my favorite ways to use up leftovers.

One dinner is often a door opening into another. Along the way, two fabulous new ingredients boldly introduced themselves: tempeh, and canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. As I face the lows that a cold and rainy, post-race week will bring, I look forward to new experiments in the cozy refuge of my kitchen.

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the whole enchilada

This month is almost over, and frankly, I’m glad to see it go. Sure there have been bright spots, like completing two more triathlons, going to some great live shows, and starting a half-marathon plan. Threatening the sunny surface of things, however, August has bred more than its share of saturnine moods.

August and everything after, the Counting Crows once crooned. I’ll take the everything after, thanks.

So why am I so glum then, in a time of sunshine, heat, and ripening tomato plants? Saying goodbye to many good friends, finishing an intense academic year, and feeling hurled into the job market might have something to do with it. Those are the surface explanations, anyway.

Apparently I can thank the god Saturn for times like these. I’m not a big astrology or mythology follower, but I do find those old systems of understanding intriguing. I’m not afraid to explore their wisdom every now and again.

As Thomas More writes in “Care of the Soul,” melancholy was once associated with the Roman god Saturn. We tend to shun, medicate, and fear depression in the modern world; More reminds us that we can instead “develop a positive respect for its place in the soul’s cycles.”

So rather than pining for happier days, I’ve decided to let Saturn in. Besides, he wasn’t only the god of sadness, but of reflection and wisdom as well. He was identified with the metal lead, giving weight and density to life. He was also the reaper, god of the harvest. For that I’ll jump on board his yellow rings.

When two good friends of ours left last week for Connecticut, I closed the chapter of our year-long neighborly friendship in the same way that I opened it: with a meal from Veganomicon. It seemed fitting, as the book was a gift from said friend, and we had welcomed them to Syracuse with a moussaka from its pages.

For this meal, I chose the potato and kale enchiladas, a hearty-looking baked dish with a homemade roasted chili tomato sauce. It seemed like a dish that would bring cheer to our last meal together for a long time.

Dotted with sour cream (tasty, but decidedly un-vegan), the enchiladas squished under our forks with soft potatoes and wilted bright kale. Filling the dining room with the aromas of roasted chili and garlic, they were a satisfying centerpiece to conversation.

And somehow, while reflecting on simple food, I’ve almost managed to forget about my down-ish days. Soon I’ll trade Saturn for September, and all of this being will fold into more doing. The crisp, fresh fall is not so far off. Until it arrives, I’m content to wait. As long as I have good food to stand faithfully by.

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run for it green chili

On an afternoon last month that could have frozen a habanero, I sipped coffee with an old friend. She’s a loving and assiduous mother, and one of the most compassionate peopleI know. She’s one of those friends who makes you miss have friends near who know you like that. One of those friends who makes you wish coffee was free and decaf better-tasting and diamond-clear Winnipeg afternoons 3 hours longer.

One of those friends whose hunger for your company makes you feel like the most interesting person in the world.

It was almost January. The promise of a new year had filled us with hope — however negligible these flips of the calendar are. Gingerly, she placed her own goal onto the pile we’d amassed between our white mugs: she was going to start running. I was instructed not to tell the world; she wanted to do this in small, private steps, until she’d proven to herself that she could.

The other day we spoke again, this time over the phone. It had been a month, and unlike so many other hopeful new runners, she’d stuck with it. She’d joined a new runner’s group, and day after fridgid -30 day, melted those snowy roads with perseverance.

We caught up. We talked about things friends talk about: love, mornings, naps, looking ahead and looking back.  Oh yes, and running. I did my best to respond to her questions. Good shoes are indispensable. Everything’s better in the spring. Pain is normal, but also a red flag. You’re in control of your form, your stride, your attitude. Make sure to get enough protein.

I told her I would dedicate my next recipe to that last one, and here it is.

From a cookbook I picked up the other day (when I was supposed to be buying a textbook), this soup is the perfect chili-soup hybrid. It roils with the taste of crushed coriander and cumin seeds, punctuating this grey season with its four-fold green. Whether you choose the original or a vegetarian modification, this soup delivers protein in at least two delicious forms: with quinoa, beans, and chicken (if you choose) you athletes out there really can’t go wrong.

When friends are too far to measure out afternoons in coffee spoons, soup spoons are a worthy substitute.

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mexi-quinoa acorn squash

My love affair with quinoa began a few years ago when a roommate wowed me with amazing salad of the said grain, topped with candied nuts. There was something different about this chewy, fluffy side dish. Something wonderful.

Quinoa (pronounced Kee-No-Wah), is a South American plant whose seeds are often confused with the grain family. The quinoa seeds function like rice, couscous, millet, or barley–more as a grain than as a seed.

The Incas referred to quinoa as the “mother of all grain.” I’m not sure whether this was because they knew about it’s unusually high protein content (12-15%) or that it contains a balanced set of amino acids. My guess is they probably just thought it tasted good and was easy to prepare.

When the little couscous-like grains cook, the germ unfold from the rest of the starch to create a whimsical spiral. I think it’s one of the nicest-looking things a person could eat, and I’m always looking for new ways to prepare it. It’s great in salads, but I thought I’d introduce it to my favorite winter squash: the acorn.

This dish is very easy to prepare and can be thrown together quickly. Since quinoa lasts in your cupboard for months, and acorn squash will wait almost as long, this supper can be adapted to most anything you have lying around: cans of black beans and corn, dredges of peppers and onions in your crisper, spices waiting to warm you.

Plus, any meal served in a one of nature’s edible bowls automatically gets bonus points. You don’t really even need a plate. If you’re a neat eater, that is.

So when you’re done reading the recipe, throw it out and experiment away. Trust me: squash are very forgiving.
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mexican spiced chocolate sorbet

These days I barely have time to dream. If I did, I would dream about spending time in my kitchen as I used to do, stirring together wonderful things. But school has sucked me in and sucked me dry.

Just weeks ago I had the time for wonderful things. Books for pleasure, long and lazy conversations, hours on the yoga mat. I am happy where I am, but it has brought a sea change.

If I could find the time to sleep, perchance I could find the time to dream: an afternoon for dark chocolate, my very own ice-cream maker, kisses of cayenne. I would dream about this Mexican iced sorbet I made when days allowed for dreams. And maybe, just maybe, there would be a few minutes left to actually bring it to life.

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comfort food

Comfort food is hard to define—that is, until you really need it. Last night was one of those nights. For most, comfort food conjures up visions of fat, sugar, cream, or chocolate—the classic no-no’s of health. But to my delight, I have found that in the world of food, comfort goes by many other names.

Comfort food in the winter is easy: just turn up the heat and heartiness and you’re set. And chocolate is a no-brainer, rarely failing to deliver a brief flirtation with other worlds.

But what about in the heat of the summer, when the wind has whipped the sweat off your skin for an hour and forty-five minute’s bike ride, competing with the sun to brand you its own—what then is comfort food? When you’ve run around all afternoon under the (blessed) heat of the June sun, carting things in and out of your car which you repeatedly curse for being black—what then will bring you relief? When you get told that a U.S. border guard made a mistake with your documents, rendering your recent 3-hour trip North just to re-enter the country to change your visa 99% pointless? When everything just seems to pile up on one lone innocent Monday—what then is comfort food?

I don’t know what you say, but I say Tostadas. Not one to call the whole thing off and resort to toast for dinner, I pulled some little corn tortillas out of the freezer. Since moving to the US, I’ve discovered (not only the true meaning of comfort food) the true meaning of Mexican food. Down here they go way beyond the sloppy burritos and “I could make those at home” nachos peddled by Winnipeg’s Carlos and Murphy’s imposters. But best of all, down here I learned the art of the tostada: quite possibly the world’s fastest, healthiest, friendliest supper for one.

While my two corn tortillas browned away in the toaster over, I dumped a half a can of black beans in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. A squirt of hot sauce, a glug of Dinosaur BBQ sauce, and a little mashing-with-the-spatula later and they were ready. Then it went a little somethin’ like this: toasted tortilla, sprinkle of mozzarella, black bean mixture, chopped tomatoes, torn romaine, a glug of red salsa and one of Wegman’s salsa verde, some green onions and low-fat sour cream–voila! Or shall I say, Ola! I was in the kitchen for probably about 8 minutes. It would’ve taken me longer to find the phone number for Alto Cinco.

Since I couldn’t be bothered with the pictures tonight (#1 way to tell if you’re a compulsive food blogger: eating a meal without a camera nearby = relaxing) I have provided you with some shots of the more accessorized tostadas we made for my folks when they were here in April. For these we fried the tostadas, but tonight I learned that toasted are just as good and of course, healthier. Tostadas are forgiving. Top ‘em with anything that brings you comfort: Grilled shrimp, chicken, cabbage, Cadbury Mini Eggs.

At the end of my exasperating day was a yellow-brick road paved with sweet, crunchy, chewy, leafy food. How simple a remedy; how basic the desire for true pleasure in satiety. Now for the chocolate—thankfully I picked up 3 Lindt Chili bars at Target earlier today—and if a 3 for 5$ decent chocolate sale isn’t evidence that life balances itself out, I don’t know what is. And Mr. Border Patrolman can go stuff himself with Hershey’s.

mango-dillas

I’m sure it had already been invented, but my mom and I like to think we coined the special hybrid term pizzadillas — a cross between a pizza and a quesadilla, or simply an open-faced quesadilla. So I figure if we can coin a term like that, I can coin another one: the mango-dilla.

The other night when we became suddenly hungry at 8, we decided to see what we could “throw together” together in the kitchen. The result? What I often call “accidental gourmet,” something you’re really not expecting to taste that great but somehow just does.

It went kinda like this: Hmm, homemade whole wheat tortillas in the freezer. Hmm, leftover tropical fruit salsa. A chunk of blah cheese that just might go the distance. Cilantro, check. Green onion, check. Now for the protein. Cans of tuna? Can we do this? But wasn’t that salsa created to go with tuna (steaks) in the first place? So why not? I dug into the can, keeping the fish in chunks rather than breaking it up like you would for a tuna-salad sandwich.

Thanks to the Mexicans for inventing a cuisine that’s so flexible, colorful, fresh and easy. Barely any chopping, 5 minutes in the toaster oven (for me) and the frying pan (for the hubby) and off we were to Oaxaca. Or even Syracuse, where it’s at least as warm. Ole!

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