Saturday, November 07, 2009

Beware the Squash Hand!

Were you aware of the possible allergic effects for butternut and acorn squash? Admittedly, I stumbled across a mention of possible allergic reaction on a food site a while back. Didn't think much of it, and assumed I was impervious, since I am not allergic to poison ivy. In my mind that makes you invincible. Alas... this is not so.

Within about 3 minutes of cutting the skin off of a raw butternut squash, the skin on my left hand started tightening itself closed. I immediately washed the hand with soap, to remove any irritant, and sent J onto the internet to figure out why my hand was morphing into an aged monkey claw.

The culprit was the droplets oozing from the edges of the squash. Earlier, the goo adhered the top half of the squash to my cutting board like superglue. I never expected an allergic reaction.

After 30 minutes, the skin was cracked and tight. I added water and moisturizer, which helped temporarily, but soon was absorbed.

The skin turned orange as well. As you can see below. I applied something akin to cortisone cream, and slept with a cotton glove on to keep in moisture.

After the next full day wearing the glove, I woke up to find the first layer of skin peeling off. It was what Elmer's glue used to look like if you let it dry on your hand in elementary school. Within the next few hours, my hand looked perfectly normal again. A quick recovery for an unexpected case of dermatitis. Be careful making your butternut squash soup this winter, everyone!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Vegetarian (vegan) Shepherd's Pie

This autumn, J and I were inundated with gifts from our school and friends' gardens. Our kitchen was filled with persimmon, sweet potato, onions, and potatoes. Having worked through most of the overstock, I am still faced with how to use 5 persimmon tomorrow (perhaps a bread?) and about 4 gargantuan sweet potatoes. Looking at a pile of radish greens, onions, and potatoes provided from our friend Miyawaki-san's hatake, I decided to make something pie-like. Inspired by the recipe from fatfreevegan , I concocted a Farmer's Pie.

Farmer's Pie
5-6 small to medium potatoes
1/2 cup soy milk
dash of salt and pepper
1 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
6-8 ounces fresh mushroom, diced
2 cups vegetable broth
1 can/pack kidney beans
1-2 cups green beans, snapped
1 1/2 tsp thyme
2 tsp fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp sage
2 cups radish greens or spinach
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp water

1. Cube and boil the potatoes.

2. Mash them, as you will, and add soy milk. Flavor with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

3. Using 1 tbsp canola oil, fry onions till translucent.

4. Add garlic, and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

5. Add carrots, celery, pepper, and mushrooms and cook for 3-5 more minutes.

6. Add veg broth, kidney beans, green beans, radish greens, and herbs. Simmer for 20 minutes.

7. Some liquid remains in the pan, so add corn starch and stir till sauce has thickened.

8. Pour into glass pie dish, and top with mashed potatoes.

9. Sprinkle with sage and rosemary. Broil for 3-5 minutes, till slightly browned.

*note: I added cheddar cheese to the top of the potato in this recipe (thus de-veganizing it), but we found that the cheese added nothing to the flavor of the dish, so I feel it's best to omit it.

Vegetarian Polish Sausage (take 1)

Last week, during my Japanese conversation class, I mentioned vital wheat gluten to my Sensei. To explain a bit, this man is possibly the most curious Japanese man I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He is a Baptist minister who has traveled around the world, and is fluent in English and passable in a slew of other languages, most recently including Portuguese. I have the utmost respect for him as a teacher and a friend, and his family as well. His son became one of my first and best Japanese friends, and is a pretty impressive snowboarder (after just 2 seasons). The entire family are also musicians, and when Maekawa-sensei is not trying to get me to somehow understand transitive and intransitive verbs, he's convincing me I need to learn how to play the accordion, or perhaps start studying Chinese as well. Like I said... amazing man.

Back to wheat gluten. My sensei doesn't eat fish, which is considered rather odd in Japan. When I stay for dinner after class, his wife cooks vegetarian food, so we can all eat together. It's awesome and I have gleened many ideas from her cooking. When I mentioned I have been looking for gluten so I could make vegetarian sausages, his interest was immediately peaked. He ran upstairs and ordered 1kilo for us to share, and I it was delivered this week. Upon handing me my pack, he said, "You might as well take mine, too. You'll need it to make me sausages." Cheeky!

This is my challenge. An old childhood favorite, that I made a few times in university with store bought veggie sausage. Can it be done with no proper steamer?

I started with a variation of Isa's sausage recipe from the Veganomicon, and altered it for a more Polish flavor.

for the sausage
1/2 cup beans (I used cannellini)
1 cup cold vegetable broth
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp dried marjoram

1. Bring steamer water to a boil while preparing other ingredients.
2. Mash beans in large bowl with fork.
3. Add other ingredients as listed and mix well.
4. Shape into sausages and wrap with aluminum foil, be sure to twist ends of foil
5. Place in steamer for 50 mins.
6. Using 1 tbsp of olive oil, fry sausages for till uniformly brown on edges.

for the kraut
1 jar sauerkraut
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tsp caraway seeds

1. Cut sausages into 1.5cm thick slices.

2. In frying pan or hot plate, add sauerkraut, sugar, mustard, and caraway seeds.

3. Toss in slices of sausage and spoon kraut over them till well integrated.

4. Cover with lid and let simmer for 5-10 minutes.

I apologize for the most unappetizing food to ever be posted online, but I wanted to show the process for creating the sausages.

All tucked away in their make-shift steamer.

J gives it a 6 on a 1-10 scale (with 5 being I would eat it again as if some changes were made). The texture was surprisingly good, but admittedly the spice was not strong enough. I will "kick it up a notch" as requested, next time around. There was a definite flavor memory touched upon for me, though, so I was happy with my first attempt.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Next Step

The clock is counting down in my mind. It's already November, and I have butterflies in my stomach about what comes next. Next month, J and I will be heading home for a few weeks to visit our families and to see how much America is still "home" to us. There is a long list of things I am looking forward to seeing, doing, and of course eating when I get back. J mentioned the ease with which we can eat out. No worrying about what hidden delights might be put in the "vegetarian" food, and he can freely go to a steak house knowing that they are bound to have at least one veg option on the menu. I, on the other hand, am delighted to dive into the supermarket. Living here has allowed me to level-up my cooking skills. I never anticipated I would be making tortillas, pita, pesto, and veggie patties and sausages with a mini-oven and range out of necessity. It's definitely been a wonderful experience, but having a full-sized oven, a freezer that fits more than 2 ice cube trays and a bag of frozen bananas, and sweet god perhaps even a counter-top larger than my cutting board would be AMAZING. I am getting way ahead of myself, though. Before I can dream of appliances and roots, we have to plan out this next year.

The loose plan is to head out in August. Where we will lay our heads from July 31st till August 20th (besides in a tent on a mountainside) is still up in the air. Onward then, to Thailand. It's so comfortable and centrally located, you can't help but to keep coming back. This will mark my 5th time visiting Thailand, and the longest chunk of time staying solely there. Whilst J and I drown ourselves in local food (FRUIT!!), we will be taking the CELTA certification course just outside of Chiang Mai. This course is about a month long, and will both give us a kick-start back into study mode, and provide us with internationally accepted certification. Nice to have in your back pocket.

We're hoping to hop over to Luang Prabang for a few days before or after the course as well. Steveo, we will be in need of your expertise!

Soon after the course comes to an end, it's back to Bangkok and then to Mumbai (with a possible stopover in Myanmar). I'm still waiting for the dates on this one, but J and I are going to spend a month at the Yoga Vidya Dham Ashram in Nasik, India. Perhaps my dear Kara will join us, but it's a bit far ahead to know yet.

So, we'll be limber, licensed, and certified. We want to wander around India for a while after the course, to really see the country. After we have satisfied our wanderlust enough, we will likely head to Amsterdam, and possibly London (on your toes, Callaghan!) before landing safely back in Detroit sometime in December.

Nothing is concrete... things haven't been paid for or reserved yet. My goal is to solidify these plans in the next few months, and relieve some of the crazy pressure I feel right now. If anyone has any suggestions or thoughts, I would love to hear them!
Oh I wanna go!

Kara has plopped this tempting offer in my lap.

Bali Spirit Festival

I am trying to find a way to legitimize spending the money for my ticket there. Health? Fun? Relaxation? Focus? That annoying voice of reason in the back of my head keeps reminding me that I need to be saving money for grad school. But ooooh how much do I just want to slam down 50,000yen for a ticket to Bali?!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Staying Warm and Saving Money

The winter is upon us, and many of us will soon be huddled in our apartments away from the cold. Once the snow kicks in, an escape to the mountains is possible for boarding fun. Unfortunately, it's just pouring rain outside and the wind is howling. This will likely continue till sometime near New Years.

We have several ways of fighting the cold in Japan. My apartment is decked out with a kotatsu (small table with a heated bottom, it's all sealed in with blankets, and you sit under it and absorb the warmth), which is perfect for that pre-JLPT study push. We also have J's electric carpet. Put it under the futon and allow the heat to radiate through to you! Yum. I don't like using the standing heater very much, because it sucks mercilessly at the electricity. Instead, I double the use by baking breads and casseroles in the kitchen, thus heating up the coldest area of the apartment. Bonus: added layer of winter insulation provided by pie and soda bread.

I think the best thing we have going, though, is the gym literally across the street. We can go over anytime for a workout, sauna, and sento. I intend on saving my own electricity this year by spending as much time as possible leeching off of Holiday Sports center. Mwaa ha ha.