11 October, 2015

Film Review: My Week on Welfare

With Thanksgiving dinner just cooked and shared with my family, including the very thoughtful and talented writer of the film, My Week on Welfare, Jackie Torrens, it's hard not to feel an uncomfortable tightening of the chest that has nothing to do with the over consumption of dressing and pie. It has to do with empathy and memory.  It stirs memories of often being hungry when I went back to school after a divorce and my children had left home. I had only a small income and a most of it was spent on rent and college fees.

I remember one particular afternoon wandering through the grocery store aisles with just three or four dollars to buy food and stopping when I caught sight of a tempting display of green apples. I remember my mouth watering and a longing that was so intense it was like the longing for love. I so much wanted those apples but there was no way to afford them and a loaf of bread. It wasn't just that I couldn't have those apples, it was that I felt like I never would be able to buy apples.  Others around me were buying bags of apples and other fruit without a thought, but I felt like I was less human because I couldn't have bread and apples.  It was more than one thing I couldn't buy -- it was a part of feeling poor in my soul.  For that moment I felt abandoned by society and absent of the ability to hope.  I felt no one, not one of these other shoppers cared or cared to know that I was hungry.

Now I know that I wasn't alone. No one on welfare in Nova Scotia gets enough money to buy fruits and vegetables. That's not healthy for them or their children. They have to make heart-breaking decisions like whether to swallow their pride and go to a food bank which is allowed only once a month where they'll get just enough food for a few days in the impossible attempt to try and make it to the next checque. And they have to feel like I did every day that they don't get enough to feed themselves and their families.

Nova Scotians on income assistance have been brave enough to tell their stories in this very personal documentary where Jackie takes on the challenge of living on a welfare budget and staying at the homes of people for a week. It's a film that will bust a few stereotypes and I hope get people talking. Because everyone of us deserves to feel like a human being of worth and dignity and have enough to eat, and we're the only ones who can make that happen.

The film is available here at CBC.ca for the price of a few commercials.

25 January, 2015

Making Homemade Tofu

When I lived in Japan tofu was an everyday thing. I could find it at the supermarket, but it was also at the conbenie -- Japanese for convenience store, and almost every neighbourhood on the island of Shikoku had its own small shop where they made fresh tofu daily. 

The tofu wasn't the same kind you get here in North America -- tofu that many people, even vegetarians, cite as a food they just don't like. I don't like it either. It's not that tasty, usually, for one reason. It's not fresh. Sellers here think you can throw it on the shelf in some kind of plastic pack with water and it's good to go for a month or more. Not true. Tofu is perishable and shouldn't be kept for more than 5 days or so. A week would be stretching it. That's because good tofu has a fresh, slightly nutty, delicate flavour with a hint of umami. It's not designed to be sour, at least as a fresh product. If you ever get to eat fresh tofu, maybe topped with a bit of good soy sauce or tamari, and grated ginger or daikon, you'll experience something uniquely delicious. To me it's almost as good as a trip back to Japan, and a lot more affordable. And it's not the least bit sour or bitter. Not even a bit.

Since I can't really get good tofu here in Nova Scotia, and organic tofu of any kind is pretty scarce, I occasionally try to make it. I've been aiming for a firm tofu so that I could also use it in cooking, but up to now was only able to obtain a silken version.  And it wasn't very thick either.  A bit disappointing.  Recently I borrowed a book form the library on their awesome new online reading app about tofu making at home, and along with the instructions on the packages of nigari that came with a tofu press kit I ordered awhile back, and some experimentation, I came up with a workable recipe for soy milk, tofu, and okara, the soy solids left after pressing the milk and great for making soy burgers and felafel.

I thought I would write out what I did in case any of you are longing for good tofu. It is a bit of a process and a little learning curve but what food adventure isn't?  And I promise this tofu is like none you've ever tasted, unless you've eaten it in Japan. Creamy, luscious and so great with a bit of the glutinous rice that makes a sublime pairing with it.

Make the Soy Milk

You'll need two scant cups of organic soybeans and 10 cups of water.  Get a big pot with a lid -- I use a soup pot.  Wash the beans briefly, drain and cover them with the 10 cups of water.  Cover up the pot and put it on the counter or stove top (turned off) overnight. They take about 8-10 hours to soften.  They should be almost flat in the centre when you slit one apart.

Drain the soaked beans, rinse the pot, put 5 cups of water in it and put it on the stove to boil.  In the meantime put about half of the beans into a sturdy blender with about 2 - 2 1/2 cups of water. Blend each lot for about 2 minutes until you have a creamy mix that resembles a thick milkshake.  Put one lot in a bowl to wait until the water in the pot boils or if already boiled, put it right in. Put the second blenderful in too and stir up gently but thoroughly with a wooden spoon. There will probably be a lot of froth on top but that's okay for now.

Bring the mixture to a boil and maintain the heat at a level so that it gently simmers for about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  Skim the froth off into another bowl with the wooden spoon and save to fertilize your plants, if you like.

Cover the pot and put it to the side for a few hours.  Do yourself a favour and don't skip this step or making soymilk and tofu will be so painful that you will be unwilling to repeat the process, because you have to squeeze the hot milk through a cloth, mostly by hand, and you''ll burn yourself and be miserable unless you have hands of steel. I usually do this step around breakfast time and then squeeze the soy milk after lunch.

Extract the Soy milk and Make Okara

When the milk has cooled to a comfortable level, start to extract it.  You'll need a firmly woven, but flexible pressing cloth (muslin works well), a large mesh sieve,  a pot or bowl to squeeze the milk into, and another on the counter for the soy solids (okara).  Get these ready before you begin and you'll be finished much more quickly. I put a bowl in the clean kitchen sink with the sieve on it ( mine has arms that fit over the bowl) drape the pressing cloth inside the sieve, and have another bowl close by on the counter for the okara. You'll also need a ladle for transferring the hot liquid to the cloth or you can pour it out if you're careful.

Fill the cloth inside the sieve about 3/4 full leaving enough room to pleat and gather the top of the cloth closed. Twist it so that no okara comes out the top. You will be more successful if you squeeze gently and then increase the pressure as the cloth begins to empty.  Firmly squeeze the last of the okara to extract as much milk as you can, being careful that no solids come through.  I always empty each clothful back into another pot, so that if there is an accident, then I only have to re-squeeze that one pot and not the whole batch.

After you have squeezed each batch, open the cloth and scrape and remove the okara with a spoon. Sometimes it will come out mostly in a ball -- this happens more toward the end of the pot as the mixture contains more solids. You can cover the okara and keep it for later, or you can put it in a container or bag and freeze it.

The okara can be used in making felafel, added to recipes the same as TVP, or even used in vegetarian chili, as I did this week.

Heat the Milk a Second Time

Put the pressed milk into anther pot and cook it once again.  It should come to a boil and cook gently for about 5 minutes,  while you stir frequently to avoid scorching.  The best way to make sure it's done is to taste a spoonful.  It should taste slightly nutty and there should be no raw beany taste.  You can also measure the temperature with a candy thermometer.  It should be around 175 degrees F. If a skin forms on the top just skim it off.  You can eat it, too, but you don't want it in the tofu.

 Add the Coagulant and Wait for Curds to Form

Remove the pot from the heat and stir gently with the wooden spoon to aid in cooling.  Check with the thermometer-- it should be about 160-165 degrees F when you add the coagulant. You can use several types but I used the Japanese favourite -- nigari (magnesium chloride).  Follow your package directions. For 8 cups of soy milk I dissolved just over a half a teaspoon in a quarter cup of water. I put in half and waited 10 minutes with the pot covered.  Then I dribbled more on the surface, twice, and stirred the top third, waiting another 10 minutes. At this point the tofu had become curds.

 Put the Curds into the Tofu Press

I ladled them carefully into the tofu press, which I had put inside the same strainer sitting atop another pot. This was so that the liquid could drain into the pot as the tofu solidified. The same pressing cloth that made the soy milk had been rinsed thoroughly and draped inside the tofu press.

The curds were ladled into the press until it was almost full, leaving enough room to drape the cloth closed on four sides of the top. The pressing paddle was pushed a bit to start the process and a plate with some tins were placed on top. I used two small cans. You want the weight to be about a pound for softly firm tofu. Wait about 20 minutes and then remove the plate and cans and press gently with the pressing paddle to remove the liquid on top of the tofu. Open the cloth at the top and ladle in some more curds.  Fold the cloth back across the top and press for about 10 minutes.  Repeat the process once more until you have a full block of tofu. At the end wait for another 10 minutes.

Put the Tofu in Water and Refrigerate

Get a large bowl of cold water and gently submerge the tofu, still in its press and cloth. Slowly reverse the tofu still in the cloth out of the press and remove the press from the bowl.  Leave the tofu for 5 minutes or so to solidify and then gently remove the cloth. Again leave the tofu for at least 5 minutes and if firm you can gently cut it in quarters, cover the bowl and refrigerate it. It needs a few hours to develop flavour. After that, keep it in the same bowl of water, changing the water each day and use it up within a few days. I doubt it will last that long.

Note: Sorry for the lack of pictures of the tofu press and pressing. I actually ran out of memory on my camera.  I've found some links where you can see the process and the tofu press I used.  Hope they will help.

05 August, 2014

Fruit Paradise Pudding (Gluten Free)


A family barbecue inspired this adaptation of a fruit crisp from my mother resource, The Joy of Cooking. Most of my family were finally able to make it out for a summer gathering and I celebrated by making dessert, something sweet, soothing and old-fashioned to round out the meal of veggie burgers made from my recipe for pakoras with buttercup squash, onions, garlic, and fresh baby chard, chives, and parsley from my patio garden, salads, and herbed new potatoes.

It's a pretty fast and simple recipe and you can throw it together in 10 minutes, apart from the time it takes to cut up some fruit, and the baking time. It's pretty forgiving -- you can use any combination of seasonal fruits and or berries. I make it in a cast iron frying pan because it cooks quickly, and is easy to serve, and pretty. Just make sure to grease the pan before you put in the fruit. Make this for anyone you love, even if its just you.

GF Fruit Paradise Pudding (This version plums and nectarines but substitute any)

Ingredients for a large cast iron skillet:



About 4 cups of chopped fruit, about 1 inch pieces

Enough sugar to lightly cover the fruit. Use your judgement depending on the tartness of the fruit but probably not more than about 1/4-1/2 cup

Lemon juice, fresh only, if fruit is not sour or to boost flavour, a few tablespoons

1 C brown rice flour or all-purpose GF flour mix
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (or up to 1 cup to taste)
1 generous heaped teaspoon baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup margarine (I use organic whipped, Earth Balance)
1-2 eggs (or egg replacer for 1-2 eggs)
About 1/2 cup milk alternative, enough to make a medium-textured batter, like a pancake or pourable cake batter
1/2 tsp cinnamon, dash ginger, and dash allspice -- all amounts to taste


Cut the fruit into about 1 inch chunks directly into a greased skillet or other baking pan. You can leave the skin on because it will soften and meld into the batter.

Dust the fruit with a bit of sugar and stir it around to distribute. The goal here is to keep the fruit tart to provide a nice contrast with the sweet cake, so DON'T over-sugar. make the batter by putting all the dry ingredients into a bowl and mixing thoroughly with a fork. Put the margarine into the dry mix and work in with the fork so that it resembles cornmeal, as for pastry. Some lumps are okay. Mix the eggs, if using, and milk in another bowl and add to the dry ingredients. Mix with a fork until you have a pourable but not thin dough. Pour the batter over the fruit, using the fork to spread it as evenly as you can to cover the fruit. Bake in the middle of the oven at 375 degrees until it's a nice brown on top and the fruit is soft, anywhere from 20 to about 35 minutes.

Serve warm or cold naked, with vanilla ice cream, or as we did with almond cream. 

Please note that though the crust looks dark in the picure, it is not burned, but has strong carmelization. You might want to take it out of the oven when it's a bit lighter.