Smoked Tofu, Kimchi and Gomae Rice Bowl!

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Sorry for the weird lighting in this photo.  The sun was shining brightly through the window and I just couldn’t get it right.  This dish comes together very simply once you have a few things made in advance.  I started making homemade kimchi a while ago to avoid a lot of the salt and fish sauce.  My favourite recipe for kimchi is from Dr. Ben Kim.  I love the addition of grated fruit and the step by step photos are great. 

The smoked tofu recipe comes from Grouprecipes.com and it turned out great.  I will definitely be using this recipe again for sandwiches.  I would just say to ease up on the liquid smoke a bit as that stuff packs quite the punch and can be a bit overwhelming if you add too much.  1/2 tsp. is more than enough!

The spinach gomae is just in my head after years of making it.  This is more like the gomae you would get in Japan and not at all like North American sushi restaurant gomae which usually uses peanut butter and includes a big dollop of sweet, sticky sauce on top.  Regular gomae is usually just sake, mirin, soy sauce, sugar and ground sesame seeds.  I just kind of wing it.  Steam the spinach and squeeze out as  much moisture as you can.  Grind the sesame seeds in a spice grinder or invest in a Japanese grinder which is kind of like a mortar and pestle with grooves in the mortar part.  Chill the spinach at which point you can squeeze together and slice into pieces or not as I didn’t bother to do in the photo above.  Add sauce and enjoy!

All of this is put atop Japanese short grain sticky rice with some slices of avocado.  Mmmmmmmm…

New Year…New Beginnings…

                                                                                                                                             Source: flickr.com via Blair on Pinterest

Well, we are into January now and it’s treating me pretty well so far.  I had a spectacular New Years Eve.  I don’t think I can do it full justice by trying to explain it too fully on here but I’ll just give you a brief summary.  We left the house fairly late after a few weeks and walked to Brandenburg Gate to celebrate the countdown with what was predicted to be about a million people.  I have spent New Years in quite a few different countries now, but I have never seen fireworks like I’ve seen in Berlin on New Years Eve.  *EVERYONE* has fireworks.  The streets walking to Brandenburg Gate are lined with people, every few steps, with their families, friends and children, with champagne and other libations, lighting off insane amounts of fireworks and fire crackers.  Some do make colours and something to look at.  Others are purely to make a crazy loud BANG!!! that I never got used to.  Bottles, paper, small fires in the street.  Everywhere.  Craziness.

Tonnes of people walking towards Brandenburg Gate.  In truth, we didn’t get more than two or three blocks away from it.  We could see the gate and the main fireworks display but there were too many people to get to the other side of the gate, where allegedly there was 2 miles of stages and food stalls and included performances by the Pet Shop Boys?  Anyway, we didn’t get anywhere near that.  But it was all good because we were in such a nice group of people who were all happy, fireworks were exploding all around us on all sides of the street and it was all very beautiful. 

After midnight we headed to Tresor, a nightclub that I’ve been wanting to go to for at least 12 years.  It’s famous to me for the music they play, and their record label.  Tresor used to be in an old bank vault but it’s now in a huge old power station.  I’ve never seen a club of this size before.  It took us at least 45 minutes to figure out where all the four bars were in the building.  Stairwells that lead to other bars, underground, pitch dark tunnels and DJ’s in industrial underground cages.  It was so, SO fun and we stayed all night, without narcotic assistance! Staff were so friendly, it wasn’t as smoky with cigarettes as the other club we went to here and the air circulation was generally better, mostly due to the size of the place.  Walking home in the Berlin sunrise was another highlight and the streets were filled with garbage that is still not all the way cleaned up. 

We’ve been taking it easy since that night.  I have been getting over a cold that I woke up with on the 30th but I feel much better now.  Met up with some friends for dinner and today it has been pouring with rain and windy all day so we’ve been working in our next travel plans and bus routes/schedules etc.

I haven’t been really updating my blog too much on what’s been going on behind the scenes with regards to our future plans and where we are “settling down” as much as we ever do, after this stint of travel.  We had shallow hopes of staying in Europe for work, but as I mentioned before, Europe’s not really in a good way as far as jobs go and we frankly just can’t compete with multilingual people holding EU passports.  We always sort of knew in the back of our heads that we’d end up back in Japan, but we were keeping open to any possibilities in the meantime.  Now that we are getting closer, and our allotted visa time in Europe is 2/3 done, we have to get more realistic and we’ve come to the conclusion that we want to give it a go in Tokyo again. 

We lived in Tokyo for a little over 2 years from 2005-2007 and we haven’t been back since.  I’ve missed it terribly during my absence.  I love so many things about it.  There are difficulties and challenges to going there, of course.  One major one being a vegetarian that no longer even eats seafood as we did last time we lived there.  It wasn’t too difficult to get by eating seafood there.  Not eating seafood is going to prove a HUGE challenge, especially with the language barrier.  I speak SOME Japanese and I can read and write SOME but I have a long way to go. Getting work, interviews, commuting and the massive strain on our finances getting set up are all going to be hard things to deal with at first, just as they were the first time we moved there.  But we know we aren’t ready to live in Canada again.  At least for now.  Apart from our family and friends there, who we can still visit, there is nothing really there connecting us to a feeling of “home”.  I worry about disappointing my family and friends by going there, but we have to do what is best for us.  I know they’ll be worrying about us and the earthquakes.  If it wasn’t for the tsunami of last year, I’m sure they wouldn’t be AS worried for us, but now that that has happened, it adds an extra strain on people, I know.  And it’s worrying for us, too.  But I am always resisting the pull to live in fear or to take the easy way out of things.  It’s easier to live in Canada, in many ways.  But I feel it’s also a compromise.  It’s hard to explain and it’s hard for other people to understand.  Basically I’d rather DIE doing what I love (travelling/living abroad) than die inside from not living my life how I want to.  Okay, this is getting cheesy.

So, we are due to check out here on the 11th.  We ended up extending our stay here by another week.  And now we are planning a return to the Netherlands.  We really want to travel to more countries on this trip.  I really wanted to go to Paris. But since we have this big plans now of heading to Japan and we need to buy some pretty big plane tickets, we need to lay low to save funds! Holland is the cheapest way for us to do this.  We found a beautiful room to rent in Haarlem which is outside of Amsterdam by about 15 minutes by train.  We rent a room in a B&B but then the owners are going to be away so they are leaving us with their place to ourselves! The rent, being out of Amsterdam is a HUUGE savings for us.  It’s pretty much the cheapest place we could stay and also happens to be in a country we are so in love with.  It works out cheaper than renting a flat for a month in my own country, by quite a lot! I’m very excited to get to know a new part of Holland and explore a new small city.   It’s close enough to Amsterdam that we’ll probably buy a monthly pass for the train to get back and forth.  Groceries and whatnot are also slightly cheaper there than Germany. 

We have a lot of adventure coming our way in 2013 but for now we’re going to take it day by day to enjoy our last week in Berlin.  Staying focused on the present while being mindful of our bigger goals.  Thanks for sticking with me!

xo

Vegan Chili with Barley…

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Barley is an awesome meat substitute for chili.  It gives you that texture and “filling-ness” that is normally taken up with ground beef but is so much better for you.  I used to make this with Yves Ground Round but I’m moving away from processed vegetarian meat substitutes as much as possible.  Throw in whatever veggies you want in this recipe, and make it your own!

  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 med. onion, diced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1-28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 2-19 oz. rinsed cans of beans of your choice (here I use black and kidney beans)
  • 10 oz. can of sliced mushrooms*
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 1/4 c. dry pot or pearl barley
  • 1 c. H20
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tbsp. poblano chili pepper
  • 1 tsp. Franks Red Hot Sauce
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Heat oil in large pot on medium-high.  Add onions and celery and saute until onions are tender and nearly clear.  Add garlic last and stir (garlic burns easily).  Add zucchini and rinsed can of mushrooms and stir occasionally for a few minutes.  Add can of diced tomatoes and cans of beans and mix well.  Add 1c. of H20 and barley.  Reduce heat to low-medium and let simmer until barley is cooked through.  If chili begins to look too dry, add more water, a quarter cup at a time.  When barley is cooked, add chili peppers, hot sauce, brown sugar and salt.  Mix well and cook for a few more minutes so spices can release their flavours.  Taste and adjust salt and spices to taste.  Let sit a few minutes before serving! Tastes better the next day!

*Why do I use canned mushrooms? Yes, I know, living fresh mushrooms are probably better nutritive-wise and I always used them in chili up until recently.  But something about the texture of canned mushrooms is more appealing to me and works better for chill.  Of course, the recipe works just fine with fresh, sliced mushrooms.  Add them to the celery at the beginning and sauté until cooked.  

 

Crazy, Seedy Vegan Bars…


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These bars be seedy.  Crazy, Seedy.  Seedy like that bar your mom told you not to hang out in.  More specifically, so seedy you probably don’t want to eat them in public without a mirror.  After eating the first of these bars, I turned to my man and asked him if I had anything stuck in my teeth.  He kind of cringed in disgust since I literally had a seed stuck in every single one of my teeth.  Attractive! But they’re good.  Ohhh so good.  

Ingredients:

  • 1c. popped amaranth*
  • 3/4c. unsalted pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4c. hemp hearts
  • 1/4c. chia seeds
  • 1/4c. sunflower seeds
  • 1/4c. sesame seeds
  • 1/4c. flax seeds
  • 1c. dried cherries or fruit of your choice
  • 14 dates, pitted and soaked
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 c. spelt flour
  • 1/2 c. agave syrup
Preheat oven to 350F.
Add flour, amaranth and all seeds to the food processor and pulse until you combined. 
Add coconut, dates, cherries and agave and process on low until mixture begins to come together and fruit is mixed throughout and broken down.
Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and pour mixture into pan.  Mixture will be seedy and crumbly but should stick together when you press it down into pan.  Press into pan very firmly and bake for 25 minutes.  
 Let cool nearly completely and turn out on a cutting board.  Don’t worry if you lose a lot of seeds when you take it out of the pan or slice the bars.  You can always stick em back onto the bars.  Individually wrap bars in saran wrap.  Bars will firm up more as they cool and will keep up to a week.
*This was my first time using amaranth and I didn’t bother popping it all.  I did pop *some* of it, and then I kind of lost patience with it.  I like the crunchy, nutty un-popped texture of it this way, but if you have a lot of time and don’t mind shaking a pan over the stove for a millennia, feel free to fully pop yours.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check this out.
**Another way I really enjoy eating this bar is crumbled up on top of my plain yoghurt with some honey drizzled all over.  Give it a try and let me know how you like them!

Adjusting to life back “home”…

Haven’t felt like writing much lately, to be honest.  I guess I’m slowly adjusting to things here and sometimes our travels feel like a million miles away.  SK is treating us well so far, but the first week was a bit rough.  I had this ideal vision of what it was going to be like when I got here, the sun and the beautiful summer and riding my bike around everywhere.  But instead up until a few days ago it’s been mostly rainy and very cold.  Going from an average of 40c for six months, to between 6c and 8c, takes it’s toll emotionally and I was feeling pent up and feeling a bit of the post-trip comedown.  But finally, the weather got better and I took a gigantic walk, stocked up on a bunch of my vegetarian cooking accouterments (nutritional yeast, Braggs, miso, tahini-you know, those kinda things!)  Bought a used juicer from a local gal as I could not dig mine out of the garage no matter how hard I tried to look for it, and things are looking up!

It’s been hard to reconcile all my creative dreams I had while I was gone, with that person that I am here and now.  It’s a lot easier to get these amazing inspirational ideas when you are travelling and constantly being inspired.  But luckily I wrote them all down so now it’s just a matter of making a bit of disposable income to put those ideas into action! I have a friend who is a great graphic designer and she is going to help me with my logo and new website from which this blog will eventually be linked…talk about a LOOONG work in progress, but for now, it’s all about baby steps: getting acclimatized, cooking again, trying to get into a proper sleep schedule (can you believe I am still waking up at all hours of the night?!) and just getting into the groove of living in my in-laws house for the summer, which has it’s own whole set of ups and downs.  

All in all I’m very fortunate, don’t have much I can complain about, and we are already planning our next trip abroad which will hopefully be in the fall, pending savings.  

As well, it’s my father-in-laws birthday tomorrow and I’ve promised to cook everyone a Thai dinner based on what I’ve learned during my cooking classes.  We’ll see how that goes.  There’s a bit of a difference between cooking on a propane tank outside in a metal wok and cooking indoors on an electric range.  But I’ll take some photos and share some recipes very soon.  I also have some left over straggler photos from the end of our trip and M’s birthday in Seoul, etc.  Thanks for sticking with me while I make this “transition”.  My thought patterns tend to be even more erratic than usual and I waffle between being “over” and “under” whelmed.  Looking forward to some tasty (hopefully!) Thai food to refresh my dulling tastebuds! 

x0

Green Lentil Dahl, Spelt Roti and Three Grains…A Very Simple meal


I make dahl quite often but usually with yellow lentils.  It is a meal high in protein and so good for vegetarians and I could probably eat it everyday without complaining.  Here, I have made it with a spelt roti and in the photo you can see a blob of humus (just cuz) and a three grain mix of brown basmati, red quinoa and kamut.  I usually eat it with a lot of plain yoghurt. I think it tastes better the second day but that’s pretty much the same with anything. There are a million ways to make dahl and I can’t say how authentic mine is-it varies from region to region and I make many different variations of it (it’s good with grated coconut as well).  You may notice some unfamiliar ingredients below.  If you make a lot of indian food, like I do, it’s a good idea to buy some of these ingredients and have them on hand for the most authentic flavour. It’s a forgiving recipe and cheap as chips so make it a lot and you’ll find your favourite way to eat it too!

Dahl:

  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1″ piece ginger, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 chili, chopped fine (I use thai red but whatever kind you like is fine
  • 1 tsp. whole cumin
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • pinch asofoetida (hing)
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. amchar (dried unripe mango powder)
  • 1 tsbp. garam masala
  • 1 piece cinnamon stick
  • coconut oil
  • salt
  • 2 c. green lentils (or lentils of your choosing)
Rinse lentils, looking for any rocks (I’m not kidding) and bits of stuff you don’t want to eat.  If possible soak overnight, covered in water.  In a medium pot, cover lentils with water, add cinnamon stick and cook on low to medium heat until soft and mushy, adding water if necessary, approx. 1/2 hour.  
Remove cinnamon stick and set lentils aside.  In a blender or food processor, puree onion, garlic and ginger, and red chili and set aside.  In a frying pan, heat coconut oil (approx 2 tbsp.) on medium-high heat and add cumin and mustard seeds.  When the seeds pop, add the remaining spices except for the garam masala and amchar.  Stir frequently, reducing to medium and the oil will begin to separate from the spice mixture.  Add pureed onion mixture to the frying pan and stir, mixing with the spices.  Cook for approx. 5-8 minutes until everything is cooked well.
Put pot of lentils back on low to medium heat and add frying pan mixture to the lentils.  Stir and let simmer for another 5-10 minutes.  By now your lentils should be very soft and broken up as in the photo above.  Add garam masala and amchar powder, stirring to mix.  Add salt to taste and serve with rice, indian flatbread or both!
Spelt Roti (makes 4 roti)
  • 1 c. spelt flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. hot water or as needed
In a large bowl, add flour and salt.  Add olive oil and enough hot water to make a soft dough that is elastic and not sticky.  If you accidentally add too much water, just add a bit more flour.  Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead until it becomes smooth.  Let dough rest about 5 minutes, then cut into four even pieces.
On floured surface, roll dough with a rolling-pin until you have some semblance of a circle and it is thin like a tortilla or wrap.  Put a large frying pan on medium to high heat and with a paper towel, wipe it lightly with oil (I only do this for the first roti).  Cook until the underside has brown spots, and then flip it over and do the same to the other side.  Set on plate and continue until all rotis are cooked. Rotis can be reheated on a plate in the microwave in between two wet paper towels.  
That’s it kiddos, enjoy and let me know if you have any good dahl additions/variations that I haven’t tried yet!