Roasted tofu with smoky chipotle tamarind sauce

Roasted saucy tofu

Roasted saucy tofu

I think we can all agree that the world would be a better place if everyone was exactly like me. Well, not like me, necessarily, just exactly like each other, but since I’m writing this from the confines of my own brain, that’s how I’ll imagine it. Think of the peace! The concord! We’d all have the same views on religion and politics. Would we even need politics anymore? We’d have no disputes to settle, no conflicts to solve. We’d have a natural empathy that would require no effort at all. We’d understand each other’s needs because they’d be our needs! So much nastiness in life is caused by envy and insecurity, but those problems would be eliminated. Nobody would be prettier than anyone else, or smarter, or more successful! Everybody would be equally good at the same things. Of course, everybody would be equally bad at the same things, too. So if everybody happened to be exactly like me, we’d have no buildings to live in, in fact our shelters would be ramshackle at best. We wouldn’t be able to help much if people got sick, because we’d never have been able to invent medicines. We wouldn’t have cars and roads, but we’d be okay with that because we’d all be pretty happy just walking around town. Of course we wouldn’t be a town, just a disorganized mess of poorly constructed lean-tos. And when there was a thunderstorm we would all go into a cold panic, huddled in our hovels, with no rational person to comfort us. We would all appreciate each other’s films (although in certain moods we’d be hyper-critical of them), and they wouldn’t cost much, because all of us would decide that we have no need for money. But we wouldn’t actually be able to make them, because we wouldn’t have ever invented the technology necessary. We would like all the food we made, but we’d have limited supplies to cook with, because we’d have no idea how to harvest wheat, or how to grow half the vegetables that we would love to eat if only we’d ever encountered them. And would we even want to cook anymore? Because we wouldn’t have the joy of sharing something with somebody, waiting to see if they like it, and then rejoicing when they do. And, you know, it wouldn’t be too boring at first, because all of us talk to ourselves in our heads half the time anyway. Eventually, yes, it might get a little stale to never ever have a new idea based on some experience you’d never had yourself, to never hear a word you’d never heard before. To never have a conversation with somebody that’s delightful because it’s completely unexpected and surprising. Never mind the fact that after a few nights of insomnia I’m so sick of my own damn thoughts that I could cry. Never you mind that! And we’d all get along, and it would be pleasant enough, we’d all sort of be friends. But there wouldn’t be anybody to be a special friend, to share a moment of unexpected intimacy, to charm you with their odd turns of phrase and fascinate you with their unique experiences or beliefs. There wouldn’t be anybody to vex you with their contrariness. There wouldn’t be anyone to surprise you with an unexpected gesture. There wouldn’t be anybody to love because they’re strange to you and you’ve never met anybody like them.
roasted tofu

roasted tofu

This is only the second tofu recipe ever on my vegetarian food blog! Weird, right? The truth is I only like tofu when it’s crispy, so I fry it in olive oil on the stove, but then my kitchen smells funny for days. Well, I thought I’d try roasting it. And I roasted it in a sauce made of smoked paprika, tamarind, chipotle, onions, shallots, sage…a version of barbeque sauce, I guess. I think it turned out very good. Not crispy, exactly, but with a nice texture, firm and yummy. The boys liked it, too, which was my goal in making it in the first place. The kids need protein!

Here’s Jumping Someone Else’s Train by The Cure. Again and again and again and again…

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Thin crispy roasted potatoes piled with chipotle black beans, spinach, smoked gouda, jalapenoes, and guacamole

Thin crispy potatoes with black beans and guacamole

Thin crispy potatoes with black beans and guacamole

“Why is it okay to be scruffy when you’re real?” This is a question Isaac had to answer for class, and in solidarity with the lad, I’m going to try to answer it myself, here. I should start by saying that I haven’t read the book, so if it seems like I’m desperately flailing to sound relevant (to anything), that’s because I am. I would posit, however, that this is the nature of all communication after first grade, and thereby acceptable for the matter at hand. So. “Why is it okay to be scruffy when you’re real?” I believe that not only is it “okay” to be scruffy when you’re real, but that scruffiness is an indicator of reality. And not just an indicator of realness as opposed to imaginariness, but also of realness in contrast to fakeness. Real meaning “actual” as well as real meaning “genuine.” Anything that is too perfect or symmetrical seems plastic and artificial. Something may be perfect in your dreams or your imagination, but when you’re awake and viewing the real thing, you notice flaws and oddities. And these are the aspects that make you know that the object is yours, and these are the things that make the object beautiful in your eyes. Any slight imperfection makes an individual more interesting and appealing, makes it stand out from all others, makes it, in fact, individual. It is hard to love something that is exactly like every other such something in the world. It is hard to even recognize that it is yours. If every car in the world was the same, you might identify yours because of a scrape on the fender or a dent in the bumper. This scruffiness helps you to recognize that the car is yours, and the very state of being yours makes it more appealing than every more perfect car in the world. If every child in the world was identical in mind and body, you might feel a vague affection for all of them. But it’s the child you’ve nursed when they were ill, whose snotty nose you’ve wiped, whose strange thoughts you’ve listened to, that you love with a fierce passion. It’s the child whose dirty face and muddy fingernails you love, because it means they’ve had a good day playing in the yard or climbing trees. Because another definition of “real” is alive, animate, as in “a real boy.” And when you’re alive you’re subject to messiness, illness, and aging. But these things, as manifestations of life and liveliness, become poignant and beautiful. Scruffiness is a sign of change. It’s a sign of growing and living, of adventures and mishaps, of stories to tell. These are the things that make a creature interesting and alive. Mint-condition perfection can only be achieved through stasis and isolation, and few things in life are actually better for being static and alone. Scruffiness is okay when you’re real, because it is both symptom and source of a real love, such as can only be experienced by real people in real time. Scruffiness is vulnerability, it is showing yourself to another when your guard is down and your mask is off, and this rawness and openness is the only possible path to intimacy. Scruffiness is banal and day-to-day. It is tedious and unspecial, but when you share this ordinariness with someone, you become more real, your relationship becomes real. You delight in the habits that you share, and you slowly grow and change together, becoming more real and alive and wrinkled and eccentric and lovely with each passing year. By heaven, you’ll think your love more rare and real than any based on false illusions of perfection. And this is why it is more than okay to be scruffy when you’re real.
Thin crispy potatoes with chipotle black beans and guacamole

Thin crispy potatoes with chipotle black beans and guacamole

This was a yummy dinner!! I roasted some thinly sliced potatoes with sage and olive oil. Then I piled them high with roasted mushrooms, black beans, corn and spinach sauteed with chipotle puree, smoked gouda, sharp cheddar, pickled jalapenos and fresh, chunky guacamole made of avocado, tomato, cilantro and lime juice. Smoky, earthy, fresh, satisfying. It was fun to eat this! We ate it like nachos. The boys stuffed the black bean mixture in some soft tortillas.

Here’s Linton Kwesi Johnson with Reality Poem.

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Millet and summer stew with black beans and hominy

Summer stew and millet

First we see a beautiful black and white shot of majestic mountains. Into the frame come the head and shoulders of a samurai, his back to us. He stands and looks up at the mountains for a few moments. And then he hunches his shoulders and scratches his head. He’s got fleas! We follow the back of his shaggy head as he walks, and without even seeing his face, we learn so much about him, from his posture and his gait. It’s Toshiro Mifune, baby! Surely one of the most charismatic actors of all time! As he walks, he comes across a farmer berating his son. The son wants to go off and join a gang of gamblers because, as he says, it’s better than a long life eating gruel. The film, of course, is Yojimbo, by Akira Kurosawa. It’s an action-packed film, with plenty of sword fights and intrigue, but, as with many of Kurosawa’s films, the real struggle concerns extreme poverty and deprivation. In this film, as in Seven Samurai, the inhabitants of a small rural town literally have nothing to eat but rice or millet, and they’re in danger of losing that. The samurai that fight for their lives and often to their deaths, are fighting for grain, fighting so that the son of a farmer can have a long life eating gruel. As with all of my favorite films, it’s the humanity and humor mixed with the drama that resonates. We love the samurai as much because he’s rootless, confused, and has fleas as we do because he’s charming and a brilliant swordsman. As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m a peaceful person of low ambition, and I think I could enjoy a long life eating gruel, if the gruel was as tasty as I could possibly make it!

It was partially because of Kurosawa that I went out and bought some millet. I’ve made it in the past, but not very well. I wanted to try again. I used a basic technique, described by Madhur Jaffrey, of toasting and then steaming the grains. But I cooked them in broth instead of water. It turned out delicious!! Everyone in the family liked it! Soft, but fluffy and flavorful. I’m a millet fan! I also made a sort of summery stew of lots of vegetables mixed with black beans and golden hominy. (You could easily substitute white hominy!) You could call it CSA stew, because I used up a lot of the veg we got this week. I seasoned it with smoked paprika, sage, and chipotle, and we ate it with toasted strips of tortilla. Everybody liked everything!!

One of the absolute best things about Yojimbo is the soundtrack. It reminds me of RZA’s soundtrack for Ghost Dog. (High praise indeed!!) Here’s Big Trouble, from the sound track.
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Beet & zucchini tacos with chipotle & queso blanco

Beet and zucchini tacos

Ever since the last time, I’ve been thinking of quotes to use this time. The last time, I chose the quotes at random, and was curious to see how they made connections with each other. This time, I’ve chosen quotes that have been stuck in my head one way or another over the years. And one from the book I’m currently reading. And one from Isaac, which he said while I was typing this up. Do you have quotes that get stuck in your head, and surface at the strangest times?

Mom, make your hand a fist and pretend it’s the world.”- Isaac.

He ain’t God, man.” – Chili Davis, on Dwight Gooden

Hwaet thu ece God !” – King Alfred

Now, on a Sunday morning, most of the windows
were occupied, men in their shirtsleeves leant out smoking, or carefully
and gently held small children on the sills.
” – Franz Kafka, The Trial

One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley

What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her
?” – Shakespeare, Hamlet

It took me like three hours to finish the shading on your upper lip. It’s probably the best drawing I’ve ever done.” – Napoleon Dynamite

The more stupid one is, the closer one is to reality. The more stupid one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence squirms and hides itself. Intelligence is unprincipled, but stupidity is honest and straightforward.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Educated no, stupid yes,
And when I say stupid I mean stupid fresh
” – The Beastie Boys

And here are some tacos to use up some of the beets and zucchini you got from your CSA/garden!” – Claire
I was excited all day about making (and eating!) this. I bought some queso blanco at the grocery store. It’s something I’ve wanted to try for ages, but it’s a bit of a splurge. It wasn’t universally popular in my family. I like it – it’s mild, and salty. If you have feta, that would work well, too (it goes nicely with the earthy sweetness of the beets.) And, actually, grated jack or sharp cheddar would be tasty in this as well! I thought this turned out really pretty – the beets go so nicely with the dark kidney beans, and they color everything around them, but there are flashes of green here and there to set them off. The flavors were nice – smoky, spicy, sweet. The recipe calls for cooked rice. I definitely recommend basmati or something else with distinct grains – anything else would make the mixture too sticky. Wild rice or black rice might be even better! I just made a big pot of basmati, mixed some in, and left some separate for the boys, who like a higher rice to bean ratio. I think tacos are the most fun to eat! And the quickest and easiest to cook! I have some leftover beet/zuke/bean mixture, and I think it would make a nice bisque, if puréed with some good broth. Will I try it? I don’t know! It’s very hot, still!

Here’s Trenchtown Rock, from Bob Marley. There was a train bridge in New Brunswick, back in the day. A beautiful old train bridge. And somebody had painted in large white letters, “One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” I mother flippin love that bridge, that quote, that song…

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Toasted hominy and avocado salad

Toasted hominy salad

It seems to me that we usually have a string of days in June that are perfect. The air is creamy and cool and full of sweet wildflower smells and sharp lemony grassy ferny smells. It’s a little warm in the afternoon, maybe, but in the morning and evening you want to sit and bathe in the sweet air. You want to be aware of how lovely the air is at this moment, because it doesn’t happen very often. It’s so easy to notice when it’s freezing, or broiling, or insufferably humid. But this unsurpassable perfection, this ultimate air, as my boys would say, is easy to overlook. For some reason, when the air is like this, it makes me think about flying. I think about flying a lot, actually. Not with my rational brain (precious little of that!) but in dreams, and now and then through the day. We went on a bike ride this morning, and that feels like flying. We ride on a towpath between the canal and the river. The towpath is raised considerably above the water on either side, in most places, so as you ride birds will swoop along next to you, and you’ll feel like you’re flying with them. This morning we saw a turtle in the glowing brown water – head out, rough, wrinkled legs swirling in the water. It looked like a remarkably pleasant thing to do. That’s what this air feels like! Sometimes, as I’m walking, I’ll sense the weight of the air on my arms, and I’ll swoosh them up slightly, feeling the air move all around them, and I almost feel as though I very nearly know what it might be like to take off in flight. I told David this and he asked if I’d been eating any of the unidentified herbs in the garden. Heh heh. Try it! Here’s a diagram…

1. stand with your arms at your sides, relaxed.
2. Press your hands backwards sllighty – maybe a foot – with a slightly curved motion
3. Swoop them slowly forward – not too far, just like a dog begging, maybe. It’s all about the swoop, I think.

Anyway – you don’t want to be inside too long cooking on a day like this, so you want to make a quick and delicious and substantial salad, such as this one. A perfectly ripe avocado is a thing of wonder, too. In this dish, we find such an avocado combined with tomatoes, cilantro, basil, salad burnet (which tastes like cucumbers – fresh!), hominy that’s been toasted with sage and oregano, and a chipotle balsamic sort of dressing. Toasted hominy is nice – it doesn’t get puffy or crispy, but it crackles and pops while it cooks. The warmth of it makes the tomatoes and olive oil lovely and fragrant and just a little soft. We ate this with basmati rice, fresh farm lettuce, and homemade tortilla chips (that’s a flour tortilla sliced in triangles and lightly fried in olive oil). But you could easily eat it with warm soft tortillas.

Here’s Flying Birds by RZA. It sounds like wings pulling through the weight of the air!
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Black bean and broccoli tacos

Broccoli & black bean tacos

I worked a mothers’ day lunch shift yesterday, and I regret to say that it won. It beat me. It did me in. [Whiny rant alert!] Waitressing is really hard! You’re on your feet the whole shift (6 or 7 hours, usually for me). Literally on your feet – you don’t sit down! You don’t eat. You do drink lots of coffee, which might contribute to the post-work fatigue. You have to remember stuff! You have to be nice to people, and communicate with them in a way they understand!! And all for the princely sum of $2.13 an hour! So why do we do it? The glamor, I suppose. The prestige. Okay, whinge over.

Yesterday after work I was plenty tuckered out. I was stupid tired. So I wanted to make a quick and nourishing dinner. I fell back on my old standby – the soft taco. I make some basmati rice; I warm up some flour tortillas; I grate some sharp cheddar; I chop up some lettuce. That’s all the extras. And then I make a mess of beans and vegetables. This is where the creativity comes in. I like to make something saucy and spicy. Yesterday I did this with black beans, broccoli (which has a very nice texture for the inside of a taco, I think!), puréed roasted red pepper and tomato, chipotle, sage, oregano, cumin and smoked paprika. Easy & tasty!

Here’s Fugazi with I’m So Tired. I love this song!
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Roasted red pepper & pecan sauce

Roasted red pepper pecan sauce

In some movies, the lead actors are good but not surprising or remarkable, but one of the supporting actors just knocks you off your feet. Take High Fidelity, for instance. John Cusack was good (isn’t he always?) but Jack Black was unforgettable – zesty, funny, feisty. Thus it was the other night with my dinner. I had about 2 cups of leek risotto left over from the night before. I added 1 cup of cornmeal and 1 egg, and I made little cakes that I fried in butter on a griddle. Quite tasty! Even my boys liked them. But (dot, dot, dot) I also threw together a few ingredients in great haste, thinking that a sauce would be nice with my risotto cakes. In my small food processor, I combined some roasted red peppers (from a jar) some pecans, and some chipotle purée. Holy smoke (geddit? chipotle is smoky? So are roasted peppers?) It was delicious! (Or so I thought) Smooth but not too smooth, bright, smoky, with that wonderful taste that pecans have that’s hard to describe. It’s like sweet and savory at the same time. This sauce is quick, this sauce is easy, and I can think of about a million ways to use it! With french fries, pasta, with croquettes, with enchiladas, with savory pies, I think I could actually make a very nice soup out of it as well, with a small amount of tweaking.

Here’s Nat King Cole with Frim Fram Sauce
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Chili with cauliflower & 2 beans

Chili!!

I realized that I’ve been saying some mean things about winter lately. And we’ve had such a pleasant winter, so far! The truth is, I kinda like winter (in the way that a person who was probably a hibernating animal in another life likes winter!) I’d like to stay home all day, cuddled up, reading books, the boys in their pjs, me making complicated baked goods and slow-cooked I-don’t-know-whats! But I work on the weekends, so we never have a day of everyone in their pjs. Here’s something you can make that’s warm and rich and has complex flavors, so it feels like that kind of day, but in a fraction of the time. Oh, yes, and I almost forgot! We ate it with home-made tortilla chips and some grated cheese. Nice.

Here’s Bryon Lee and the Dragonaire’s with Hot Hot Hot.
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Roasted butternut & tomato bisque

roasted butternut bisque

Remember Bob Ross and his happy accidents? This soup was the result of a happy accident, in some ways. NO I DIDN’T PUT TOO MUCH BURNT SIENNA ON MY FAN BRUSH!! I just made the roasted red pepper-almond sauce too hot and spicy. That’s right, the one we made with our empanadas. So last night, with fiendish cleverness and calculation, I decided to use the sauce as a base for a soup! Thus spreading the spicy joy around, and rendering it more palatable. I decided to add roasted butternut squash because it’s so mild and sweet that it could easily accommodate a bit of heat. And then I thought about all the roastiness going on, with the pepper, and the chipotle, and the squash, and I thought fire-roasted tomatoes would go well (from a can, unfortunately – it being February). So I made this lovely, velvety, sweet, smoky, spicy bisque.

Here’s Lee Perry with Roast Fish and Cornbread, because, let’s face it, I’m never going to have recipe for roast fish, and this song is wonderful!
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Roasted butternut and black bean kofta

butternut squash black bean kofta


I feel like I’ve been seeing meatballs everywhere lately. All the internets and newspapers and magazines are brimming over with them. Is this a “food trend” that we have before us? Perhaps, subconsciously, that’s where I got the idea for these. We obviously need a vegetarian version! I’m fascinated that different cultures seem to have their own take on the notion of little balls of meat and grains and veg and spices. My son’s favorite dish to order from an Indian restaurant is malai kofta, which is one variation on the idea. Decades ago, I saw pumpkin kibbeh listed on a menu at a Lebanese restaurant. I’ve been intrigued by the idea for years! This is sort of my imagining of a vegetarian meatball/kibbeh/kofta. It combines roasted butternut squash, smashed black beans, bulgar, bread crumbs, a bit of cheese and an egg. These are seasoned with oregano, basil, sage, smoked paprika, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon. Flavorful little bundles! I thought about frying them on top of the stove, but in the end I coated them in olive oil and then baked them in a hot oven instead. They still came out quite crispy, but soft in the middle. I made a spicy chipotle tamarind sauce to go with them, and we ate them with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado and warm pita bread. Plus oven roasted rosemary french fries. But I have different plans for them tonight! I’m having trouble concentrating on this! My little son is home (not very) sick from school, and I’m getting a tutorial on the shades of difference between his two Luke Skywalker toys!

Here’s Josh White’s One Meatball.
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