Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Ever-Elusive Tempeh goes Mexican (and Italian)

Tempeh. It sometimes feels like the holy grail of vegetarian cuisine. At least to me it does. You see, I have tried to sample tempeh on three separate occasions, only to be thwarted by circumstance.

Attempt 1:

In a rather ho-hum Asian cookbook, I came across what seemed like the perfect recipe. I wanted this recipe so bad, I could almost taste it in my mouth already, except that I had no real idea of what it should taste like, having never sampled half of its ingredients. Among those ingredients, the elusive tempeh, though I had yet to learn of its fickle temptress ways. As I read the ingredients, I recalled that Trader Joes sells Tempeh. I had seen it not three months ago sitting in a refrigerated section between vegetarian burgers and chorizo.

At my earliest convenience, I high-tailed it to the Traders. Walking down that same aisle, I spotted chorizo, veggie burgers, and other assorted meat or meatlike substitutes. Then, I hit the cheese section. Something was horribly wrong. I worked my way back in reverse: cheese, veggie burgers, chorizo. No tempeh. It seemed the Trader had plum run out.

Attempt 2:

Wandering through the produce department of a Toledo Meijer, I happened upon it. Tempeh. What was more, it was ON SALE. It was like winning the lottery twice in the same week (which you’d think was impossible but the world finds ways of proving the impossible real). I threw it happily into the cart and proceeded to the checkout with my fiancĂ© and his mom. (We were visiting). We drove back to her place, happy as clams and went to bed.

It wasn’t until lunchtime the next day that I realized the magnitude of my error. I opened the frig, eager for tempeh. I pilfered through the plastic sacks of our refrigerating-required groceries. No tempeh. My horror rising with every step, I walked out to the car. There, among the nonperishable foodstuffs, was my tempeh, left overnight in the summer heat, spoiled.

Attempt 3:

This time Trader Joe came through like gangbusters. I packed my prize into the car and headed home. Once there, I took the bag into the house, checking twice along the way to make sure my Tempeh was snug in its bag. I plopped it into the frig, safe.

Then, we left to visit family for the holidays. When we got home, I opened the frig and instantly knew something wasn’t right. I waved my hand back and forth in the depths of the frig. It wasn’t cold. A glimpse at the plug in its blacked outlet confirmed it, there has been severe electrical anarchy in our absence. We got a new frig the next day (thankfully the apartment did not burn down), but the perishables weren’t salvageable. The frig had been slowly frying the outlet for days and the food had long since soured. The tempeh went in the trash for a second time.

Attempt 4:
When I found the stuff again, I took a more lax approach. I figured, if fate had deemed me unworthy of tempeh, who was I to fight it? The tempeh sat in the frig for a couple weeks without a care in the world. I was too busy to cook and it would just have to wait. The wait came to an end when the expiration date drew near.

We planned for tacos. The man bought three colors of bell pepper and fresh romaine. We cooked up 2 cups of long brown rice in the cooker. While that cooked, he chopped while I sauted tempeh.

Stir Fried Tempeh
1 package tempeh, cut into inch thick strips
Soy sauce

1.      Steam the tempeh for 15 minutes in whatever steamer you like. Mine fits inside the rim of my smallest saucepan. (It rocks.) Then, heat up the sautĂ© pan.

2.      Understanding that tempeh is Asian in decent, I decided it would be best to use Asian flavors in the cooking of it, at least for this first effort. I drizzled on an amount I deemed appropriate of both soy sauce and teriyaki. When both sides of the tempeh were brown, I transferred them to a plate.

Upon assembling my taco, I placed a straight row of happy tempeh lengthwise across the soft shell, right over top of the refried beans and rice. I wrapped it up with a little pepper, lettuce, and a dash of enchilada sauce. It tasted good. Very very good. Tempeh, as it turns out, takes a lot like tofu only stronger with a slight bitterness reminiscent of miso, which makes sense, as it’s a fermented soy product.

Despite our best efforts and gluttony, there were leftovers. The next day was a Wednesday, which just so happens to be my son’s “picking day.” In other words, dinner is of his design, within reason. Of late, he’s partial to pizza, which we, as always, make from scratch. The boys made a meat-filled pizza any man would envy. I make a veggie one and throw on whatever vegetables happen to be available. A few weeks ago, this resulted in beet pizza that was very sweet but had to be eaten with a fork to avoid staining fingers red. (It oozed purple.)

This past week, it meant I threw on the tempeh. And what a genius idea it was. The tomato sauce combined with the usual veggies (peppers, escarole, tomatoes, etc) and the cheese was marked with a slight touch of salt that just worked.

I would ask tempeh where it has been all my life, but it would only dodge the question.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How does it end?

I'm a speed reader. I get impatient waiting around to sound out syllables and the words just take too long. That's when my brain takes over. Before I know it, I've gone three chapters with no idea how I got there that fast. At such times, I can only hope that I didn't skip paragraphs at a time. It's my reading autopilot and I can slip into it without warning.

It's like when you've made that same drive to work so many times, you can get in the car. Then, suddenly you're at work and you can't for the life of you remember if you stopped at any red lights along the way. You can only assume you obeyed general traffic laws because your car is intact and you aren't holding a speeding ticket.

In order to read every word of a book, I have to read it aloud. This works well when you have a very dense article on post colonial literary criticism to read, a mother who can't stand when boring articles are read aloud, and you live with your parents. I've noticed, though, that for most books, reading every word is overrated anyway. I can get the plot-points, the character, even the musicality of the language skipping roughly every third word. I tend to think that this is the sole reason I have developed a minimalistic approach to writing, though, admittedly, I can skim my own writing in this same way and the only thing I miss is my typos.

Maybe what this says about me is that ultimately I am about the product. In knitting, there are two types, the process knitters and the product knitters. Process knitters are about the journey. They could care less if they actually finish anything they cast on. Product knitters are about the end result. It's about gifting that sweater, wearing that scarf. It's about binding off and seeing the thing that your hands made. I'm a product reader. I like the journey sure, but really, I want to know how it ends. At least in a first read. If I like a book enough to read it twice, then I focus on the journey. I take apart the language, search for connections, for meaning. Most books only get the first read. Very few make it through to a second or third time at bat.

I just finished a book that I already have plans of reading again. It's called "The Housekeeper and the Professor" by Yoko Ogawa. I've read with abandon since I learned the alphabet, but I've never enjoyed math. I also am particularly loathe to even discuss baseball (I spent a healthy t-ball career picking dandelions that I was allergic too, which seemed preferable to actually playing the game). How odd that this book about a math professor would grip me, a professor with a disabled short-term memory and a love of baseball. In this simple but powerful tale, a housekeeper and her son become the companions of the aforementioned math professor, who remembers nothing past 1970s except the 80 minutes intervals of the present. Each day the professor uses his knowledge of numbers to understand and interact with a world that has passed him by. As the woman and the child come to know well the man who must relearn them each day, it reveals the nature of love and friendship, of the limitations caused by the professor's disability and the bonds that form in spite of it. All of this is weaved in around the concept of numbers and what they mean, their perfection and mysteriousness.

I rushed to the end, and when I got there, the quiet matter-of-factness of that end satisfied me. I immediately found myself wanting to go back and linger over passages I remember loving but not writing down in my haste. I need to know how it ends in order to focus on how it gets there.

When I write a story, I usually get inspiration from knowing the end already. Then I don't have to rush to get there. I can watch the journey unfold and be patient and surprised by how the characters get to the end. This is a fact of my personality, unchangeable. I can work on my nail-biting or my tendency toward silence on long car rides. I can't change about me that my brain is always rushing, always thinking about what is about to come. I do not have a naturally slow internal pace. My autopilot fast-forwards.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Attack of the killer sterilized cat

Over the Easter weekend, I had a bit of time to make headway on the veil. Because I was at my parents' house, carless, and in a position to kick my son outside to play in the fenced-in yard, I spent quite a bit of the weekend sitting in a chair in the sun on the enclosed back porch, knitting.

They have a new cat, who was found out back in a nest with her four siblings over six months ago. She had a brother go to my brother and another brother went off to live with my sister. Her two sisters were adopted by a cat-loving couple who are good friends of my brother-in-law. At the six month mark, she became eligible for reproductive part and claw removal (my dad makes his own woodwork from scratch so it was either declaw the cat or put it down), so for the past three weeks now, my mother has been very adamant that we need to keep the cat calm, rather than allowing her to play in the rough-and-tumble way that kittens do. The cat, of course, wants no part in calm anything and promptly makes her way into as much mischief as she can.

Apparently, this goes double when mohair is involved. There I sat, yarning over and counting my stitches while watching my son jump on the newly erected trampoline. Suddenly, my knitting was pulled from my grasp. Alarmed I looked down and there was a cat with the long tail from the cast-on end dangling in her mouth. She managed to separate a few strains of mohair before I disentangled her from the veil. From then on, every ten stitches or so, she would leap at my right-hand needle with enthusiasm before falling to the floor, having no claws to catch her footing on my nice neat stockinette. I eventually gave up after finishing my row and used the free needle to swing in the kitten's general direction so that she could pounce in earnest. When she tired of the game, I shut her in the porch with the slider's screen door and sat at the table to start the next row.

She attacked my mohair twice on Easter morning as well, but at least I was better prepared. I have seen many a cartoon featuring a fluffy kitten and a ball of yarn, but it never really occurred to me to be on the watch for fiber-munching felines. My cat is more than content to sit just beyond arm's length on the couch from where I am knitting and fall asleep. He only gets bite-y if you decide to reach out that arm to pet him if he's not in the mood for human interaction. Never has my Kitkat attacked my yarn without very consistent provocation. And for that, I am now very grateful. My cat is fiber-considerate. And he plays a mean game of billiards.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Perfect Pancake

For Christmas, my best friend/cousin bought us this ridiculously amazing gift basket from Godiva. It was a breakfast gift basket (or bowl rather, as it was all inside a mixing bowl) that included fancy blueberry jam, Godiva chocolates, Govida chocolate chips, scone mix, and pancake mix from someplace called Bette's Oceanview Diner.

It was seriously the best pancake mix I have ever had, so we looked up more on this Bette's place. What do you know, they have a cookbook. An amazing cookbook of pancake portions. Sure enough, that mix we received has a from-scratch recipe equivalent. The book is called, oddly enough, "The Pancake Handbok: Specialties from Bette's Oceanview Diner."

When my man was mixing the batter for those same pancakes (only better because they were fresher), he read that one should try individualizing each pancake with a variety of ingredients you might have on hand: chips of various flavors, grains, dried fruit, even veggies. He started gathering materials. By the time I got there, everything was set for me to get started. (I am the master pancake flipper in this house. The pancakes are unanimously voted as my job.) To create each pancake as an individual thing, instead of adding the extras into the batter, you pour the batter on the griddle and add the extras to the top of the cooking cake. 

I used bittersweet chips, butterscotch chips, mint chips, dried cherries, oats, wheat bran, peanuts, strawberry slices, banana slices, and one solitary candy corn pumpkin. Each pancake was its own thing. No two ended up the same, and that amounted to quite a bit of variety at the dinner table.

So simple, but such a good idea. Pancakes will never be the same at this house again. To think it all began with one generous christmas present and Godiva chocolate.