Wednesday, 30 January 2008

the demise of the giant turnip

Generally, I think it is a bad idea to eat anything larger than one's head. Lucky for me, this ridiculously large half-turnip in the veg box is slightly smaller than my head, which made it fair game, especially once you realize that the half-turnip is only half a sphere, while my head is a full sphere. I'm auditioning spice combos for ravioli filling, so I made a soup. Giant turnip soup: turnip, onion, quince, garlic,bay leaf,tomato paste, pomegranate syrup, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, currants. Served with roasted beets and olive oil and pomegranate seeds. It needed greens, so I added some spinach later. I think a mash version of this, with minor tweaking, and minus the beets (which I just ate because they were purple and therefore exciting) will make lovely ravioli filling for a dinner party this weekend. Lurking in the background is potato bread (cooked spuds, rosemary, marmite, baking powder, whole wheat flour).

crooning turnip love songs: Patsy Cline

Monday, 28 January 2008

rösti. alternate title: ducky vs. the pile of spuds: ducky wins again!

Rösti (spuds, onions, rosemary, salt, tiny bit of chickpea flour) in truffle oil, because what's the point of having truffle oil if you don't use it? Bean puree (black-eyed beans, raw garlic, nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, salt, a few jalapenos), roasted tomatoes (in balsamic) and roasted carrots (in pomegranate syrup and apple vinegar and black pepper). Plus a little sprinkling of cacao nibs. I was a little worried that the different flavours would be at war, but everyone played nicely together and I'll be making this again, but with white kidney beans so it isn't grey. That would require actually having white beans on hand. This would be a good dinner party food, because all the veg can be made before hand, and I imagine I could, in theory, make it look very sexy if I stacked everything up a little more artistically and added something bright green, like a little kale. But I had kale for lunch. If I eat any more Brassica today, I will go mad.

dance track: theme to the muppet show on repeat.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

ducky's culinary school: post 2

The culinary school has been busy, but we've failed to post. We are bad, bad homosexuals. No biscuit. There was even a double layer carrot cake, which was so exciting I forgot to take pictures.

Spanky likes beets. I likes beets. The veg box this week has beets. You can see how this dinner was inevitable. We give you.... (drum roll please) beet risotto. One of the best kept secrets in the culinary world is that risotto is actually really really easy to make. Ducky is withholding his conclusions until he's tried this unsupervised. So, you take your short-grain rice. We used brown, because I'm a freak. I like brown rice. And frankly, white rice is too wimpy for the sheer number of beets in this dinner. You take the rice (1 cup) and saute it in a little bit of good olive oil along with a bit of dried basil until it becomes translucent and smells nutty. Then you add 1 cup of red wine. We used Peter Lehmann Wildcard Shiraz, which was perfect for this. Simmer until the wine is gone, then add broth plus a little marmite and keep doing that (adding warm broth) until the rice is done. Stir as much as you like. I am a lazy ass, and stir my risotto so infrequently that Italian grandmothers would probably claim it's not even really risotto. However, I have fed this to actual Italians, from Florence even, who made little sex noises upon tasting it. So there.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch, pour yourself a glass of the wine. Then chop beets. 3 beets. Maybe chop then drink. Not drink them chop. Spanky was drinking coffee because he's an addict. Also, chop an onion. Fry the onion up, then add the beets, then cover them, drop the heat, and let everything caramelize. If it starts to weld itself to the pan (as it did tonight) throw in a splash of wine and/or apple cider vinegar. While everything cooks, drink and talk about gay cheetahs. Drinking optional.

When the rice is done and the beets are done, mix them together in the beet pan. We then added all the roasted garlic we could lay hands on, which was just under a head, and some nutritional yeast. And toasted walnuts. Yum. We also had salad, mostly for colour contrast. Beet rissoto is yummy, and PURPLE. So much fun.

There was no music. We had the cheetahs and some fairly surreal conversation. Spanky, however, went out on the town dressed as Seymour last night. I think that takes care of the musical component of the weekend.

baby vegetables

Last night I was at a friend's house, ostensibly learning how to build a bike. This involves a number of exciting tools, some of which appear to be based on Klingon weaponry. I am very excited. Between the bike shop and her house are some lovely tiny indian groceries selling lovely tiny eggplants and okra and fresh coconuts and bitter melon. We were inspired and made a feast! A feast I tell you! Baby eggplant goodness: punchpooran, popped, then onions until browned, then tomatoes until mushy, then baby eggplants and okra and coriander. We just threw the eggplants and okra in the pan and put the lid on and let them cook on low heat until everything began to stick, then threw in some water and it deglazed everything and made a fabulous sauce. The bitter melon is just simmered in coconut, the coconut water, green chilies, salt, pepper and dry-roasted black cumin. On the side is baby mango salad (unripe mango, salt, lime, avocado, garlic, coriander) and the remaining fresh coconut with lime and salt. And yes, that would be the world's largest, bluest plate there.
feasting music: something turkish and plugged in.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

climate change, meat, and "personal choice"

Last week Rajendra Pachauri, who is the head of the UN scientific panel on climate change said something rather radical out loud at a press conference in Paris. He asked people to "please eat less meat". You see, it's old news that livestock production creates lots of greenhouse gasses. And I'm not talking cow farts here. Livestock needs land, feed, water and transportation. Lots of it. So greenhouse gas emissions from livestock total more, in fact, than all forms of transport combined. And guess what? We've known this for a long time, yet it is rare to hear any sort of public debate about whether or not people ought to eat animal products daily, and whether or not participating in something that contributes to environmental destruction on a global scale can really be considered a personal choice.

I find it fascinating that there is broad social support for smoking bans pretty much anywhere. After all, smoking is a personal choice, no? I mean, it pollutes the air in restaurants and annoys the people around you, but is it really so different than the personal choice to eat a steak that requires cutting down rain forest, using underpaid labour, and then has to make an international journey to end up on your plate? In both cases, you are taking an environment that is meant to be a shared one, and needlessly polluting or destroying it because it makes you feel good. Oh yeah, and there's the bit about killing a sentient being for no reason other than taste and convenience. One can make the argument that smoking is also harmful to the person doing it. Well, diet-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart conditions are on the rise, and the last time I checked, those were bad for your health too. I'm sorry, but in what way is that kind of behaviour a personal choice? Shouldn't a personal choice be something that primarily affects the person making it and doesn't gratuitously hurt others?

Despite the ethical and environmental reasons not to consume animal products, most environmental groups and private individuals who are concerned about equality and environmental issues are loathe to suggest that people should consume less meat or, heaven forbid, stop using animal products altogether. Even when one totally ignores the possible health benefits of a vegan diet consisting of something other than fries and sugar, there are compelling reasons to reduce or eliminate animal products from our lives. I sometimes imagine being an old woman and having to say to a teenager "Dude, sorry we left you a trashed planet, but you understand that my love of ice cream and my right to drive the suv to the store to buy it is infinitely more important to me than you and your future, right?". Put that way, no one would say that the ice cream is more important. Sadly, our actions say otherwise.

We know that the animal killing industry is bad for the planet, bad for the underpaid workers, and bad for our health. And we know that we don't need it in order to survive. So why oh why won't anyone talk about it? People seem determined to keep up our willful ignorance about how our "personal choices" are going to eventually "fuck up the planet that we rely on for such luxuries as air, water and food", and our public figures are pandering to our childish insistence of living in a fantasy where our choices about what and how much we consume are ethically neutral. Some days I meet people who give me hope that people will change, but when I see someone with a Nobel prize suggesting the western world to cut meat consumption to only 5 times a week, and the western world balking at this incredible "sacrifice", I want to crawl under my bed and cry.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008


Mmmmmmmmm....lentils. Cumin, fenugreek, black mustard seeds, fennel, onion seeds (in equal amounts), curry leaves, onion, turmeric, green chillies, tomato, garlic, ginger, obligatory spud, puy lentils, salt and pepper. I like puy lentils because they're kind of peppery, though this time I just thought they would look pretty against the spinach. On the side are roasted parsnips and leeks. The bread making continues, and I had this with spelt bread hot out of the oven and some eggplant pickle. Because eggplant pickle goes with everything.

lentil lullabies: cole porter

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

drag gnocchi

Even drag kings need dinner. Gnocchi (frozen from a previous adventure), a bunch of fresh stuff just barely heated in broth and balsamic: garlic, olives, capers, tomatoes, more cilantro than you can shake a stick at, and some poor lost half avocado that was wandering around the fridge. I was going to have a little side salad of sprouts, but I might have accidentally eaten them while I was cooking.

Monday, 21 January 2008

more orange soup!

I do like orange soup. It's winter, it's grey, and orange soup makes me happy. I promise that I don't survive on soup alone. But for the time being, kitchen dancing involves a lot of soup. Here's celeriac soup made fancy and orange by saffrony goodness (celeriac, onion, spud, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, black pepper, salt, nutmeg, saffron) and some finely finely chopped salty spinach and garlic. I have leftover dressing from the kale rollups you see, so I'm taking salad for lunch tomorrow. This is one of the few times that I don't want dinner leftovers. The wraps were for a vegan meetup. My Darling was here, and the two of us looked at the menu for the meetup and realized there were no vegetables (except carrot cake). Being our stern and matronly selves, we decided to bring veggies. Nothing fancy. Several hours later, we ended up with something lovely. Rolled up in the kale leaves are: roasted garlic eggplant, smoked tofu, shiitake mushrooms done up in a little bit of tamari, butternut squash caramelized in white wine, maple syrup and sesame oil, plus some raw celeriac, fennel and red pepper, and cilantro. Also in there is tahini dressing (tahini, chiles, one clove of garlic - we were feeling restrained - tamari, maple syrup, pickled ginger plus a good bit of the vinegar in it, and smoked tofu, all put in the food processor). Darling claims that we can just eat the dressing by the spoonful and I've checked. She's right. The rollups were fabulous, though, and I think I'll be eating them all summer. Then, in keeping with the "nothing fancy", we made soba sushi, which is just soba noodles and some of the caramelized squash from above and some extra sesame seeds, all rolled up in nori. Here it looks like the noodles are making a break for freedom, but I assure you that they didn't get far. We just waited until we got to the meetup to cut the rolls into pieces. I like the way the end pieces looked like little green aliens with crazy glam rock noodle hair.

soup music: head on the door

Tuesday, 8 January 2008


Not much time, so I threw a squash, an onion, some garlic and a spud in the oven. And then a bunch of cherry tomatoes. I then went back to work for a bit, and when I felt the need to stop typing, I returned and blended everything but the tomatoes, added smoked chillies, cumin, nutritional yeast, lime and cocoa nibs, then added the roasted tomatoes. Soup! Soup with chocolate bits! ORANGE soup with chocolate bits! I think this is my new favorite soup. The leftover half butternut squash got mashed up with the same spices, plus coriander and maybe a tiny bit of cinnamon, plus some roasted red peppers, and I made little stuffed buns for tomorrow. I put cocoa nibs in the dough. I have a work shindig, and there will be no vegan food, so a friend and I are bringing our own fabulous picnic to make the omnivores jealous.

dancetrack: claude vonstroke

Monday, 7 January 2008

la confession

When I tell omnivorous people I'm vegan, they all have the same response. I call it The Confession. There is a high chance that the first sentence is "I don't eat that much meat". This is usually followed by a fairly in-depth explanation of what they've eaten over the past few days, which invariably involves lots of animal products, all of which are somehow "exceptions". A note to those of you without dictionaries: when you do something habitually, it is not an exception. If you have milk in your coffee every single day, butter your bread and eat the special at the cafeteria, then consuming animal products is not an exception in your life. As much as it grosses me out to hear the details of who my beloved omni friends are eating this week, the unsolicited information isn't why I think of this as The Confession. It's the way that the information is given and justified, with turned-up sentence ends full of question marks and a vaguely guilty look, as if they somehow want me to say it's okay (which I won't). At the very best, I will summon all of my diplomatic skills and remind myself that friendships are valuable, and say nothing. More commonly, I ask them to stop, because it really does disgust me to hear it, much like most omnivores would be disgusted to hear a firsthand account of cannabalism. I also ask them to stop because it makes me sad to know that someone I love is doing something I find so very wrong when they could do otherwise.
However, I do have a pressing question, which I've never actually asked in response to The Confession, because I don't know that I could reliably dodge a projectile at close range. But now that I'm alone in the kitchen, I can ask it: If you don't think you're doing anything wrong, then why are you going to such great lengths to a) convince me that you rarely do it and b) justify it? I don't spontaneously ask omnivores what they eat or why, even though people often ask me to why I'm vegan, or ask me to justify refusing to eat/wear/do something not vegan. I try to remember to say that I'll explain my decision, but I don't feel the need to justify it. We don't justify behavior when we think that behavior is okay, and we certainly don't try to convince others that we're behaving otherwise, even if that behavior challenges a social norm. Imagine it. Can you picture someone blushing and muttering "Oh, I rarely volunteer. Except yesterday. And last week. But that was exceptional." or "I try not to tell little girls that they are equal to boys. I know, well, except for last week when my daughter asked about being a fireman. Oh, and there was that incident with the doll purchase, but other than every night before she goes to bed, I try not to challenge the dominant idea that she's just not as important as a boy." ? If I feel the need to justify or hide something in my life, either to myself or to others, it gets me thinking: what about this is making me uncomfortable? Sometimes it's that I'm doing something wrong. Sometimes I'm passively allowing some sort of screwy dynamic, or selling out to make others happy. Usually, if I find myself justifying something, it's a good indication that things have to change. So don't confess your omnivorous activities to me. I won't tell you it's okay, and I won't buy any of your excuses. Instead, howabout if I give you yummy food and silly dances that I don't need to justify. But I do like to share.

above is quick-ish post-running food. i almost couldn't wait long enough to take a picture before eating. it was a perfect clear cold night and the streetlamps were doing wonderful gothic novel things to the trees. i was a little afraid of vampires. it was a wonderful run. afterwards i made this: chickpea pancake (chickpea flour, barley flour, salt, nutritional yeast, baking soda, water) attacking, or possibly lovingly hugging a mess of veg (aubergine, and onion cooked in veg stock, a dab of red wine, basil, oregano and capers. at the last minute i added some spinach and leftover garlic-roasted tomatoes from the squash cocoa nib soup that i am still dreaming about). if you use japanse eggplant and have leftover tomatoes like i did, the whole thing only takes about 10 minutes, which is good, because i was thinking about gnawing on one of the kitchen chairs.
run/cook/dance/rant track: shriekback (big night music) and the clash (london calling).

full of beans

I love beans. This is kidney bean curry masquarading as chili. (onions, tomatoes, coriander, salt, amchoor powder, pomegranite seeds, pepper, salt, fenugreek, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, bay, cardamom, caraway and some other stuff that smelled like it might go, plus kidney beans, plus some leftover steamed broccoli). I love using my mortar and pestle to smash up spices almost as much as I like beans, as you can tell by that list. The bread is anise fig sourdough bread. I'm trying to learn how to make bread, because much of the bread here is disastrously unvegan, and also too fluffy and white for my liking. The trying is rather half-assed, though, because I don't really eat that much bread in the first place. Still, sometimes you need a vehicle for eating dried figs instead of just sitting there and eating the whole package at once. So, bread.
Soundtrack for the dancing/cooking: No quarter.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

ducky's culinary school: post 1

So, in the kitchen, sometimes there is my flatmate. We'll call him Spanky. Spanky can brew beer with the best of 'em, and one day, I will know his dark beery secrets. In exchange, I'm helping him learn to cook. This is Ducky's Culinary School. I, as you may have guessed, am Ducky. Culinary school started a while ago, but we didn't have a blog a while ago. So you'll have to jump in here.

Here's Gnocchi with A Sauce Loosely Based on Something Resembling Arrabiata. And wine, which was good, but a poor choice for this particular dinner, as it was firmly beaten down into submission and throttled by the chillies. Sorry wine. Better luck tomorrow. Spanky says it makes a good post dinner treat now that the sauce isn't bitch slapping it. Yes, we use that sort of strong language here. We find it helps. I like gnocchi because it's comforting and can seem very fancy "ooooh! homemade gnocchi!", but it's ridiculously easy to make and if you make lots, you can freeze the extra gnocchi and have it later in borscht, only then you call it potato dumplings.

The vague directions for making gnocchi:
Bake some spuds. We baked 6, and we cheated by using the microwave. The important thing is that the spuds not be waterlogged. If you boil them, leave them in the fridge overnight. We didn't have that kind of time. We wanted dinner tonight. And we have a whack of spuds to get through. It's Scotland, it's winter, and we have a CSA box. Then, mash the spuds and add salt. At any rate, more than you think you would for plain old mashed spuds, but not enough to make you gag. Then, sprinkle in a good cup of plain white flour. Not self-raising. Not whole wheat. White. Dammit. Mix with your hands, and keep mixing and adding flour until you have a dough. Now make little tiny dumplings. I just rolled them one at a time between my palms while barking orders at Spanky, who was making The Sauce. If you don't have a fabulous roommate who makes sauce while you roll dumplings, or just want to just eat the gnocchi plain with a bit of olive oil, then add some chopped fresh rosemary (about 2 tbs) and nutritional yeast (2-4tbs) to the dough and it will be yummy beyond words.

Spanky, meanwhile, was busy combining his recent skills in onion-frying and tomato sauce making. He did this: 1 Onion, fried. Then lots of garlic (5 cloves). Deglazed with a can of tomatoes and 4 chopped tomatoes and about a cup of leftover red wine. Then a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of chopped capers, two chopped thai bird chilies and a teaspoon each of basil and oregano. And we threw in 5 or so chopped up sun dried tomatoes because we were feeling fancy. That all simmered, and then at the last minute, we added lots of spinach. But no matter you add, you always end up with two tablespoons of the stuff. I swear, if you started with 10 pounds of spinach, you'd just just get a really dense 2 tablespoons.

When that was ready, we boiled the gnocchi until it floated, and then rescued it and dumped unceremoniously into the sauce. It was yummy. We had broccoli and the worlds most giant parsnip, simmered in veg broth, thyme, lemon and a tiny bit of maple syrup, on the side. In the photo, you can see Spanky's notebook. Spanky takes this cooking thing very seriously, as should we all.

the post about veganism

Oh yes, I'm vegan. Vegan, for those of you who haven't yet come over to the dark side, means I don't use animals. Don't eat 'em, don't wear 'em, don't smear their byproducts on my face in the hopes of warding off premature wrinkles. I'm a biologist, and I don't do research that uses animals. You might ask why I would do such a thing (or you might not, in which case I wonder why you're even reading this post). And I might answer that it's because I don't think animals are here for us to use. I don't think one should be able to own another sentient being, and we don't need to use them for anything, really, since alternatives almost always exist. It's needlessly violent, exploitative, and cruel, not to mention gross.  And frankly, even though animal exploitation permeates our culture, something being common and socially acceptable is not the same thing as something being right. I can't think of anything that I need so badly that I can justify killing for it, and I certainly don't think anyone deserves to die just because we've decided that they taste good or that their skin is a good way to cover up ours. 

Being vegan for me is part of a larger framework. The kind of thought process that one has to go through for speciesism (ie- thinking we have the right to lord over the beasts) is the same as the thought process that goes into sexism, racism and heterosexism (this list could go on ad nauseum). All of these things have in common that you first create two groups, usually "us" and "them".  Some feature unique to "us" is then picked. Like, say, being human, or white, or straight. This feature, which is just a fairly random feature, then gets picked as the feature that defines superiority. Hmmmmmmm...notice how this is completely arbitrary. The group with the arbitrary superior feature then gets to fuck everyone else over. See "The Sneetches" by Dr. Suess. Yup. The concept is so easy that it can be pretty fully explained in a children's book using fluffy yellow imaginary star-obsessed beasties.  

I just realized that this post had a lot of things I don't use, and then got ranty. Now, I loves me a good rant, but I don't really feel at all deprived by my veganism. Depraved...occasionally, but that's a different story. I'm pretty indulgent, I love food, and I'm (gasp!) happy. I can't actually think of anything that I don't have that would improve my life if it showed up. Huh. And I really really enjoy what I do have... good friends and family, good food, a stealth bike, I job that I love doing, and a few tricks up my sleeve. Sometimes I miss out on chocolate cake at work, but I usually have a treat tucked away in my desk for just such moments, and knowing that I'm not the kind of person who will sell out on their morals for a piece of chocolate cake is, well, peaceful. Not only do I have the peace of mind of knowing that I'm not contracting out death for my own amusement or convenience, but I get the perverse pleasure of giving a little kick in the shins to the world that would make us all into consumers who measure themselves by how much of the stuff placed before us we can buy. Because I don't want most of it. So there.  I  feel good in my skin, and I don't want to wear anyone else's, either literally or metaphorically. So yeah, I rarely think of what I miss out on by being vegan, but I often realize how very much I've gained.  Wow. Sappy but true. Excuse me while I go unsap with my friend Bataille. 

let's start at the very beginning

Now, you see, I've got a kitchen. And in this kitchen, stuff happens. There's the kitchen dancing, the cooking, the ranting and raving, the writing, and the work. Some people who have been in my various kitchens over the years have requested "recipes". Because I am not a naturally obliging person, it has taken me years to get around to doing this, and I'm still not going to post recipes. Guidelines, yes. Pictures, occasionally. Vague directions about ingredients, sure as hell. I'm not very good at doing things the way the directions say I should, and this works out just fine for me, thanks very much. 

Maybe this will be just another cooking blog. Maybe not. We'll see where it goes, and if it all goes horribly wrong, I've noticed that there's a delete button somewhere.