December 30, 2010

Saw an eagle | Semiahmoo | Birch Bay State Park | Texas caviar

The second (and last) time I got seasick was on a fishing boat off the northernmost point of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. We were camping at Meat Cove, a fishing village accessed from an unpaved road off the Cabot Trail, with a permanent population of fewer than 100. Our tent was on a high cliff overlooking the ocean, and remaining on solid ground, hiking and enjoying the scenic beauty, was what I should have done. But no, I had to succumb to the lore of seeing whales. The owner of the gorgeous land was a fisherman who supplemented his earnings by renting out camping space, and hosting whale watching tours in his fishing boat.

(My first experience with seasickness had been a ghastly one suffered aboard a large tour boat off the coast of Paihia, a tourist town in the Bay of Islands in the far north of the North Island of New Zealand. On that fateful cruise, which I'd been looking forward to for weeks, I spent two hours locked in a tiny bathroom making simultaneous use of a toilet and sink basin. I was understandably leery of ever going out on the sea again.)

Anyway, the fisherman/Captain assured me that the sea where we were going was calm, and no one ever got seasick on his boat. HA! The boat was small, bare-bones, and seating was on a ring of milk crates along the rail. Things were OK while we were moving, but when the Captain dropped anchor, the boat started tilting from side to side — up and down, up and down, up and down. It wasn't long before I felt the familiar, horrible feeling of seasickness upon me. The only bathroom was an open toilet visible behind the Captain, and I began to cope with my misery by lying back on my crate and willing myself asleep, so as not to feel the horror. My crate and I became one. I was vaguely aware of a young child keening, "is it going to tip, Mom? Is the boat going to tip?" over and over, and of people leaning over me as if I weren't there, to see the whales, but mostly I was basically unconscious.

Then, one of my sons started tapping me and begging, "open your eyes, Mom. Open your eyes. There are eagles flying over us. Please, Mom, open your eyes. Just for a minute." I tried. I really did. But opening my eyes even a crack allowed the nausea to seep to the surface, so I squeezed them shut again, and fell back into my self-preservation coma. I've always felt so regretful about not seeing the eagles, which is why I was so excited when we went walking on on Semiahmoo Spit on our little mini-vacation to Birch Bay — and there, across the road, was an eagle!

Semiahmoo Spit is a mile-long strip of land jutting into the ocean at the northern end of Blaine, Wash. At the northern tip of the spit is the Semiahmoo Resort, where we stopped to have tea, and gaze at the water from one of the public sitting rooms. After our tea, meandering around the trails behind the resort, we found rotted, moss-covered old piers, and a newer seasonal ferry dock. (Clearly we were here in the wrong season.)

Atmospheric, or bleak, depending on your point of view.

After exploring the docks, we headed to the beach, and walking path.

I've always been hopelessly attracted to rocks, especially wet ones, and used the most restraint I could manage to only look at them, pick up a few, then leave them behind. I won't admit to how many Lake Superior rocks I have, but I didn't take any from the spit. Not even one. You can see how irresistible they are, though, in their nests of grass.

We were heading down the walking path when I looked across the road and saw what appeared to be an eagle sitting on top of a dead tree. With only an 80mm zoom on my camera, we weren't close enough to get a good photo, and I saw there was a walking trail on the eagle's side of the park. Sooooo, we headed over there, not quite sure what the eagle would think of our intentions. When we were at Glacier National Park in Montana, where the chance of encountering wildlife is high, the rule of thumb was, if an animal changed its activity as a result of your presence, you were too close. Using this as our guide, we slowly went closer. The eagle turned to face us and, not knowing anything about eagle behavior, I opted to take some photos from where we were, rather than try to move any closer. Wouldn't you know it — my camera battery chose that moment to die, and I had forgotten to put the spare back in my bag after I'd charged it. Still, seeing the eagle was exciting.

Later that afternoon, Christmas Eve, we took a little break from the damp, natural world to take in a movie. We headed to a seven-screen theater to see True Grit. The lobby seemed perfectly normal, and the cost was typical of any movie, so we were quite surprised when we entered the theater and found a small screen and decrepit seating. The seats were old, uncomfortable, and arranged without concern for viewing ease. We were scrunched and twisted in our efforts to see the screen, and Ken attributes his stiff neck to the two hours we spent in the theater. I think it also had something to do with my aching back. (Along with our marshmallow bed.) The movie was good, though, if you don't mind some shooting and chopping.

For dinner, we ate our Vancouver leftovers plus the stuffed tofu hot pot with black bean sauce, and soup with dumplings, purchased for the occasion the evening before at Bodhi Chinese restaurant in Vancouver.

Soup with dumplings

The food was just as good as the night before, and left us wanting to return to Bodhi again, soon.

On Saturday we headed to Birch Bay State Park for a gentle hike. Actually, it was more like a walk through the woods, as my back was acting up and I didn't want to take any chances.

The wet, ferny, mossy woods were quite magical — kind of like a series of pastel paintings. It seemed like the kind of place where Hobbits would live. Seriously, I was expecting to come upon a Hobbit house at every turn.

It may be winter here, but so much vegetation stays green year round, that it's a very different scene from what I'm used to. Washington is called The Evergreen State, and it's an accurate description. The temperature is usually in the 40s during the day, and I seldom even wear gloves — an act unheard of in Wisconsin.

With so much rain and dampness, moss grows everywhere, adding to the green and slightly eerie look of the woods.

These are my new hiking boots, which I love. This was their first outing, and they were completely comfortable. As soon as we returned home, I donated my old (very old but still thought of fondly) hiking boots to Goodwill.

Buffy spent the days of our vacation in a scenic dog-boarding lakeside home near Bellingham, and I believe she had a good time there. I was hesitant to leave her because she's 17, but she did well, and came home happy and refreshed, though a little tired from all the excitement.


Texas Caviar: black-eyed pea salsa

It's almost the new year, and I suppose I should be both looking back and looking ahead — evaluating the past year and forming resolutions and goals for 2011. But for right now, I wish everyone a prosperous, peaceful, healthful and generous new year. And to ensure your good fortune, I'm reprinting my favorite recipe for black-eyed peas. Make it today and let it marinate until Jan. 1, or make it at the last minute and enjoy it fresh. Either way, eating black-eyed peas on the New Year is supposed to bring you luck — and they taste great! See you in 2011!

Texas Caviar
  • 2 cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained (or equivalent amount of home-cooked beans)
  • 4 scallions, finely sliced
  • 3 jalapenos, minced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil,
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Fresh ground peppercorns

Rinse and drain the beans and place in a bowl with the scallions, cilantro and peppers. Put the oil, vinegar, lime juice and salt in a one cup glass measuring cup and mix together. Add the liquid to the beans mixture and combine. Place in a shallow glass (or other non-reactive) dish. Cover and place in the refrigerator for a few hours or a few days. Mix occasionally to distribute the marinade evenly. Grind some peppercorns over the top just before serving.

notes: I thought the mix looked a little too green and beige so I went looking in the refrigerator for a few grape tomatoes to chop up. They were gone so I got a few slices of the tomatoes I dried last summer (and keep in a sealed freezer bag in the fridge). I chopped those up and added them for color and tang. I also used jalapenos from last summer's garden. I always freeze bags of whole, hot peppers from the garden to use in cooking during the rest of the year. This was the first time I tried to use them uncooked. Couldn't tell they weren't fresh.

I like to rinse and drain canned beans in a wire wok skimmer that I got in an Asian market years ago because I liked the way it looked. It's easier to clean than my fine mesh strainers and holds about one can of beans at a time.

For a little black-eyed pea and New Year's history, read this story from the New York Times.

December 28, 2010

Birch Bay part 1 ~ Vancouver and dinner at a Chinese Buddhist vegan restaurant

I mentioned in my last post we went north to the tiny town of Birch Bay for five days, where we were given the use of a condo across the street from the water. The condo was quite large and, unlike the house we live in in Seattle, WARM. In fact, even though the thermostat was set to 60˚, the temperature in the condo was so warm that several times we opened the terrace door to cool it down. Understand, I'm not complaining — it was kind of wonderful to be warm, even if it was only for five days.

Although the condo was cozy-warm, the weather outside can only be described as bleak — near-constant rain and dark skies, but hey, we didn't let that stop us. No, we're used to bleak. We arrived Wednesday night, stopping first at a vegan-friendly Vietnamese restaurant in Bellingham, for dinner. The food was presented beautifully and was very good, but I didn't take any photos; I'm sorry to say I was blogged out, and just couldn't manage it. The photos you see below are all from Vancouver.

Soup with dumplings ~ Bodhi Buddhist vegan restaurant

On Thursday, we headed to Vancouver. Because it was so close to Christmas, crossing the border took a long time, and the 40-mile trip took us about two hours. It was pouring in Vancouver, of course, but my husband wanted to go to Stanley Park. Doesn't everyone want to enjoy nature in the pouring rain? We both had hooded raincoats but had somehow forgotten the umbrellas, so we ended up buying one in the gift shop — which now that I think of it, seems like a rather appropriate souvenir — and set off to walk on the seawall. Pouring rain certainly does cut down on the crowds, and we were practically alone as we "enjoyed" our walk. After that, we were pretty wet, and decided that it just wasn't going to work to walk through the forest — or anywhere else. We had planned on having an early dinner anyway, so we did a car tour, then headed to a Buddhist Chinese restaurant called Bodhi.

Daikon cakes ~ Bodhi Buddhist vegan restaurant

Our dinner was so good — I even got to have daikon cakes (sometimes called radish cakes or turnip cakes) which I love. We decided to get an extra dish and some soup to take back for the next night, Christmas Eve, when we doubted we'd find anything open. It's true we had a kitchen, but didn't really want to cook except for daily breakfasts, and dinner on Christmas.

Bean curd skin rolls in sesame chili sauce ~ Bodhi Buddhist vegan restaurant

Stir-fried Chinese broccoli~ Bodhi Buddhist vegan restaurant

After dinner we packed up our leftovers and extra dish, and headed back to our nice warm condo in the relentless rain and gloom.


So glad I signed on to test recipes for Urban Vegan!!!

Spiced lentils

Mini injera

Ethiopian collards


December 26, 2010

Away with my winnings

We've been on a little vacation up in Birch Bay, Wash., near the Canadian border. Someone gave us a time-share condo for five days, and we headed North. I barely looked at the computer so I'm feeling very behind in my blog reading, and writing, but I wanted to post a quick THANK YOU to Ricki from Diet Dessert and Dogs for recently hosting a giveaway and randomly selecting me as the winner. The day before we left on our vacation, a box filled with cookies arrived at our house. I had no idea there would be so many cookies! There were boxes and packages of the most delicious cookies imaginable. I ate two from one of the small packs immediately, and they were perfectly crunchy and delicious.

I brought one of the larger boxes with us — the ginger snappers, and they are a ginger-lovers dream cookie. They are fragrant and spicy, with bits of ginger all through them. These cookies were made just for me — not too sweet, and gingerlicious.

The cookies are made in Toronto by New Moon Kitchen. I love them. Here's the ingredient list from the ginger snappers box: organic spelt flour, blackstrap molasses, pure sunflower oil, organic evaporated cane juice, ginger, unrefined cane sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, sea salt, spices. Two cookies contain 6 grams of fat, 70 mg of sodium, 2 grams of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, 3 grams of protein. (The ingredients and nutritional information vary according to the cookie flavor.)

Hope everyone celebrating Christmas had a wonderful, peaceful holiday. I'll be back soon with tales of our adventures in dark, rainy Birch Bay, and in Vancouver, where we found lovely things to eat at a Buddhist Chinese restaurant.

December 20, 2010

Buddha's hand | fabulous recipe testing | Portlandia

I was walking through Whole Foods with my shopping list, because you know if you go to Whole Foods without a list, you may leave without your wallet. It's not that I think (like so many others) that Whole Foods is excessively expensive, it's just that there is so much temptation in my path. Even if I stay away from the deli counter, and buy only real food, there's SO MUCH real food, and it all looks so good.

If I stick to 365 brand and focus on specials, the food prices aren't bad. But like I said, there's temptation at every angle. Unexpected temptation. And I'm weak.

A few weeks ago, for example, I was wandering among the fruits and vegetables when I happened upon the most bizarre item I've ever seen in a produce department.

I was looking at citrus fruits and WHAT??? I couldn't believe my eyes at the weirdness I was seeing. It took me a while to understand that I was looking at a citrus fruit. I spent quite a lot of time admiring the selection of Buddha's hand, but at $6.99 each, I decided it was an extravagance I should live without.

But as soon as I got home I was distressed that I'd left the incredible thing behind. Naturally, whenever we went back to WF, there was not a Buddha's hand to be found. Until just the other day, when I was there as I said, with my list, searching out an organic orange to use in an orange bundt cake. There they were — two little ones, a big one and a freaking enormous one. They're all the same price, so I went for huge. I justified the purchase by thinking I could use one of the fingers for the zest in the cake. Oh yeah. Sometimes you just have to give in.

Buddha's hand, it turns out, is a variety of citron. It is basically thick peel and pith, but unlike oranges and lemons, the pith isn't bitter. It is very fragrant and is used for perfuming rooms or clothing, or in cooking for making jams and jellies, for zest in baked goods or for scattering onto salads or on top of sweet or savory dishes. You can slice the fingers in half and eat them, but I have to admit, I had a hard time cutting off one of the fingers for my cake. It just seemed wrong. The cake, however, was great, and will be the subject of a future post.


Testing 1, 2, 3

Non-traditional arroz verde (with a link to the recipe!)

I've been testing recipes for cookbooks again. Above is a non-traditional arroz verde created by Michael Natkin of Herbivoracious Blog. Michael is sending me only vegan recipes to test, and this one is wonderful. It's kind of like a fresh herb pesto with rice. I'm giving you the link to the recipe on his blog, but I have to tell you that I doubled the amount of rice but not the herb topping. I prefer much less oil in my food than some people so I needed to reduce the fat content, but I highly recommend that you try this, whether you decide to make it full strength or not. It's easy and amazing.

I'm also testing recipes for the new Urban Vegan cookbook and the first thing I tried was Tuscan bean dip. It was so delicious I couldn't believe it had so few ingredients and was so fast and easy to make.

This is hearty and humble vegetable soup — a great use of barley and so delicious.

I also made cream of broccoli soup — another winner. I feel so lucky to be making these wonderful recipes.


I know all the folks in Portland have a good sense of humor, so I can post this video. The one thing I can't understand is how the makers of the video left out the vegan scene.

December 14, 2010

Black bean soup, Thai food | Seitan pot roast with roasted vegetables à la Rose

Broccoli and eggplant stir-fry in the wok

I'm continuing to highlight some of the dinners our youngest son has been cooking for us. He's cooked several meals since my last post, and I'm showing just a selection of what he's made, but first I'll share a little bit about his introduction to solid food when he was a baby. When Jordan turned seven months old, our family of five headed to Australia for half a year. He was nursing but not eating solid food, as he had rejected all our attempts to introduce solids into his diet. I decided to wait until we got to Australia to try again. Once in our host country, I met other mothers of babies his age, and all were feeding their babies solid food, so I gave it another try. I mashed up bananas, cooked applesauce, made rice cereal, puréed sweet potatoes — all to no avail. This was my third baby so I was not an inexperienced new mom, randomly flinging food at a bewildered child. I knew he'd eventually eat when he was ready, but I kept offering.

All grown up.

Finally, one day while I was consuming a bowl of miso soup with broccoli, I offered the now 9-month old a taste, and he was interested. He slurped it down like it was the best thing he'd ever tried. I handed him a piece of broccoli from my bowl and he gnawed it happily. So I began feeding him miso soup and broccoli. This was exactly what his older brother had eaten for his first food. I couldn't believe I had two babies like this.

I want to mention one more thing about our stay in Australia. Although it was more than 20 years ago, the availability of healthy-baby care seemed very different from what I was used to. We were living in the state of Victoria, so I can only speak about my experience there, where traveling pediatric nurses made scheduled stops at neighborhood centers, and the local mothers would all show up with their babies for check-ups and inoculations. Although I wasn't even a resident of Australia, it made no difference. My baby got weighed and measured with all the others — for free. There were no questions about whether we had health insurance, or whether we were eligible for care.

Back to our now-grown-up son's cooking. The first meal I'm highlighting is black bean soup and red cabbage salad. I love soup topped with avocado, and this spicy soup was delicious.

With the cabbage salad, he was trying to replicate a dish he'd eaten and enjoyed in Prague. It had rice in it which was kind of weird, but all the other flavors melded so beautifully, I loved it.

The next night, we had Thai food, starting with an excellent coconut curry soup spiked with lemongrass and lime.

To go with the soup we had an eggplant and broccoli stir-fry. I love when our son cooks — I hope there will be more dinners to blog about.


I cooked, too

Growing up, when my mother made pot roast, I refused to eat it. I couldn't stand the gooey stuff in the beef. Even now, I shudder to think of it. Still, when I saw Rose's seitan pot roast on her Dandelion Vegan Blog, I immediately wanted to make it. You should definitely go look at her photo, which is 100 times better than mine, and I know you'll want to bookmark the recipe. Mine really did look a lot like hers in real life, but the lighting situation here is absolutely driving me a little nuts, and wreaking havoc on my photos. Gah.

I followed Rose's directions but made a few minor additions and substitutions. Instead of vegan Worcestershire, which I didn't have, I doubled the tamari, and instead of ketchup I used tomato paste. My herbs were oregano and arctic thyme, and I added smoked paprika. I also subbed an herbed yeast flake mix that I had made previously, for the nooch. The most interesting addition to the recipe was 1/4 cup of urad flour. The reason I had the urad flour was because I kept reading about it on The Airy Way blog, where Zoa used it to make dumplings with fabulous texture and taste. I added some to the seitan mix to see how the texture would be affected, and I was amazed at the results. The seitan was so tender and soft, like actual pot roast. I've never had seitan with a texture like this before, and I have to do more experimenting with the urad flour in different seitan recipes. To go with the seitan, I roasted carrots, broccoli, potatoes and golden beets.

December 10, 2010

Butternut rancheros from PPK | Israeli couscous | What is shellac?

Over my next few posts I'm going to highlight some of my youngest son's cooking. He's following in his older brothers' footsteps as a great vegan cook. Sometimes he uses a recipe (more or less) that I can link to, but usually he just cooks from the heart. Either way, eating his dinners is always a treat.

One of his recent dinners was Butternut rancheros from the PPK. He made pan grilled butternut squash and black beans in ranchero sauce. This was one of my favorite dinners ever — so flavorful that you just have to try it. I like squash a little, but I loved it in this recipe.


What to bring to the party

Last weekend we co-hosted a Hanukkah party with omnivore friends. Our hosts were uncertain what to make so I planned to bring half the food. I brought so much vegan food with me, I never thought it would get eaten, but I came home with very few leftovers. My friend made potato pancakes (w/eggs) a gorgeous green salad and a fruit salad. I bought hummus and eggplant/red pepper spread from Trader Joe's, and made Israeli couscous to go on a platter with carrots, olives, grape tomatoes and pita.

This was my first time making Israeli couscous. I was inspired to make some after seeing it on Zoa's blog, and wondering why I'd never cooked with it. I've had it in restaurants, but when I make tabooli at home, I usually use bulgur wheat or whole wheat couscous. (Couscous is a form of pasta.) The couscous was dressed with a variation of the green onion salsa from Viva Vegan that we had for Thanksgiving. It was made primarily from green onions, curly parsley, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil, and it worked perfectly. Dried cranberries and grated carrot also were added to create a beautiful pasta salad with tons of sparkling flavor.

In addition to the platter, I made a double batch of chickpea cakes, enhanced with corn, carrot, tamarind and parsley. I also made a big bowl of applesauce. The cut, cored unpeeled apples were cooked quickly in a pressure cooker with a small amount of apple juice, then puréed in the Vitamix. The applesauce was so smooth and silky, you would never know the skins were included. (Do I enjoy my Vitamix? Unhuh.)

The final item I made was a blueberry cake, but failed to photograph it.


What is shellac?
I recently read an article about shellac, and am including it here for anyone who might be interested in knowing more about certain food coatings that are made from this insect-derived product. The article came from The Vegetarian Resource Group December newsletter and is reprinted here, with permission.

Q: What is shellac?

A: Shellac is a coating or glaze derived from the hardened, resinous
material secreted by the lac insect, much like honey from a bee.
Shellac in its raw form, known as "lac resin," along with lac wax and
lac dye, is produced in Southeast Asia. India is the largest producer
in the world, yielding 18,000 metric tons of unrefined lac resin
annually. Approximately 85% of India's crop is exported, mostly to
European countries, Egypt, and the United States.

According to an article by Ramesh Singh, Department of Zoology at Udai
Pratap Autonomous College in India, 300,000 lac insects are killed for
every kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of lac resin produced. Approximately 25% of
all unrefined, harvested lac resin is composed of "insect debris" and
other impurities according to the Shellac Export Promotion Council.
The cost of shellac varies according to climatic effects on harvest.
An employee of a shellac company told us that due to 2010's crop
failures, the price of lac resin has doubled to approximately $15/kg.

Shellac has GRAS status by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
which means that it is generally recognized as safe in foods. If used
as a fruit or vegetable coating, it may be labeled as lac resin or as
shellac. It is also approved for use in products certified as organic
by The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Shellac, in one or more of its various forms, (e.g., bleached,
dewaxed, etc.), may be found in a wide variety of products including
furniture polish and varnish; aluminum foil coating; paper coating;
hairspray, shampoos, perfume, mascara and lipstick; printing inks and
paints; pharmaceutical tablets; and agricultural fertilizer
(slow-release coating for urea). Readers may note that all forms of
shellac, (even "orange shellac" or "lemon shellac" which may connote
non-animal origins), are derived from lac resin.

Confectioner's glaze, the name often used for shellac by candy makers,
is composed of approximately 35% shellac (purified lac resin). The
rest are volatile organic compounds which evaporate off during

In foods, shellac is most commonly used as a coating or glaze on
confections, chewing gum, fruit, and coffee beans. Lac dye, red like
carmine, (another insect product), may be used as a coloring in foods
and beverages.

Q: Which candies are coated with shellac?

A: As a general rule, any hard-coated, shiny candy contains a shellac
coating or glaze (M&Ms(tm) is one notable exception.) Shellac may
appear on the label under different names. The two most common ones in
use today are "resinous glaze" or "confectioner's glaze." In general,
all Easter candy (eggs and jelly beans) are coated. Halloween candy
(candy corn) is as well.

The VRG contacted many candy manufacturers about shellac. There are
many who use it, even on candies that you may not suspect to be coated
with it. Below is a partial list. Subscribe to our free email
newsletter [ ] updates on shellac and
other food ingredients. Coming soon: shellac alternatives.

For more information on ingredients, see
[ ]

Confections Containing Shellac

* Hershey's Whopper's Malted Milk Balls(tm)
* Hershey's Milk Duds(tm)
* Nestle's Raisinettes(tm)
* Nestle's Goober's(tm)
* Tootsie Roll Industry's Junior Mints(tm) (NOT Tootsie Rolls)
* Tootsie Roll Industry's Sugar Babies(tm)
* Jelly Belly(tm) jelly beans, mint cremes
* Godiva's(tm) Dark Chocolate Almond Bar; Dark Chocolate Cherries;
Milk Chocolate Cashews; White Chocolate Pearls; Milk Chocolate Pearls.
(This is a partial list; consult with Godiva about specific items.)
* Gertrude Hawk's(tm) chocolate-covered nuts and raisins; cupcake
sprinkles; decorative cake pieces
* Russell Stover's(tm) jelly beans; NOT in their chocolate-covered
cherries or mint patties