31 January, 2008

Happy Birthday !

To commemorate the birthday of Vegetable Japan and one solid year's worth of writing for me, a minor miracle if there ever was one, I offer this little recipe for the Best Tomato Sauce on the Planet. Now that's a big claim, I know, and maybe just a bit capricious since I haven't tasted every sauce in the world. But I have tasted quite a few, and even made a few hundred kilos, or close, when I worked in the kitchen of a small Italian restaurant /deli a few years back. So I have some idea of the claim I'm making. And it's not my brainchild, but adapted just a bit from the Foods of the World Italian Cookbook, one of a series which in my opinion are still genius cookbooks. I collect every one I can get my hands on, which is less easy as they've been out of print awhile. And now you know too.

You can trust me when I say this one is good. Perfect for tossing on any shaped pasta from capellini to rigatoni -- fresh pasta, dry pasta, any good pasta will

And it's not complicated. It doesn't take exotic ingredients or hours of simmering, which some insist on, but I feel is overkill. It can be made with canned tomatoes in the winter and still be quite a treat.

It's fabulous on pizza.
You can dress it up by adding any sauteed ingredients you like. A few mushrooms, some eggplant, zucchini, or a spoon or two of cream. You can certainly top it with some parmesan or other cheese, and it goes well in a lasagna or casserole.

It would be equally good smeared on a bit of bread, topped with a smidge of cheese and toasted to make a quick snack. In other words, it's versatile as all get out. There's only one thing to remember about it; it's fairly concentrated in flavour so don't use too much. Be judi
cious and then add more if you like.

Now to tell the truth, today I had the hankering for pasta, some nice gluten-free brown rice spaghetti sent over awhile back by the lovely and generous Seamaiden of Book of Yum, which is also having a first birthday this week. Happy Birthday, Book of Yum and Sea
maiden! May the good food, and you, continue long and prosper.

On a day like this, the only thing better than one pasta is two. So while I had a Pasta Vesuvio, with tons of garlic, dried hot Japanese peppers, shitake mushrooms, baby eggplant and potatoes cooked up in olive oil for brunch, I found that was none too hard to take and I felt like even more pasta for supper. So I made this sauce with some fresh tomatoes I was lucky enough to find at the farmer's market this week. I'm sure they must be the very last ones in Kagawa. Topped with just a bit of grated parmesano reggiano from the Le Plaisir shop around the corner and a slurp of good-tasting olive oil from the same place (about the only two imported things I use now, when can't get local) it made the meal into a celebration.

So here you are, a gift from Vegetable Japan to you on this blog birthday. Add it to your stand-by recipe arsenal, and lean on it in good cooking times and bad. It can stand up to that. It's always been a rock for me.

Tomato and Garlic Sauce
Combine and cook, stirring until the onions are soft and only lightly browned:
3 Tb olive oil (I use extra virgin in this sauce)
1 cup or thereabouts small-chopped onions
Add and cook, stirring for about a minute:
1 Tb or 3 medium cloves garlic, chopped finely
Add 4 cups fresh, blended tomatoes or 4 cups canned Italian-style with juice, chopped
1 - 6 oz. tin of tomato paste
2 tsp sugar
1 Tb salt
1 tsp dry basil
1 Tb. dry oregano
1 bay leaf
freshly ground pepper
Simmer for about 30 minutes or less until the flavours combine and mellow. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Enjoy in any creative way you can imagine, once or twice a day.

24 January, 2008

The Okara Chronicles

The heroine fought her way out of her futon on the tatami, shuffling through the frosty cold to her unheated Japanese kitchen, where she warmed her hands by putting on the kettle for hot water to wash out the big soup pot, stored up on the highest wooden shelf. Next she rinsed out the small hemp cloth that she had found and carried with her across the world for its use in straining potions, liquids and juices for her daily sustenance.

She stood in her extra thick socks and indoor shoes on the darkened plank floor while she swirled and minced the soy beans she had soaked overnight in hand-filtered water until they glowed with a pale golden light. Pouring the ground beans and water into the big pot, she stirred them and waited for the paint smell of the raw beans to mellow. The top was foamy and frothy as the seafoam she remembered from her days of beach combing. As she worked she brewed some hot coffee and topped it with the cooked foam as she skimmed it off the soy milk. Finally the cooking and stirring was done and she stretched her hemp cloth over a small bucket and fixed it in place with four clothes pins. Raising the pot she poured the mixture through the cloth and then removed the pins and squeezed the milk out.

When she opened the cloth she saw the cooked bean husks, called okara. It was this that she had been especially wanting because it could be mixed with a few spices and herbs to make delicious felafel, enough for dinner and the next day's lunch besides, and a treat to warm the body and bones in the midst of a cold winter.

Preparing a noon meal of brown rice, cooked vegetables and the felafel with a lemony sesame sauce, our heroine sat down to a well-earned meal, all the more satisfying for having made most of it herself from the top to the tip, bean to bowl, pan to table.

"Enough", she said, rubbing her now warm hands, and thinking once again of her grandmother's kitchen. "It is enough." And it was.

{{\ *_/}}............/

Yesterday I made my second batch of soy milk, okara, and felafel with what I think are some nice improvements on the taste and texture that I wanted to tell you about before you try it, as I know you are dying to do.

Here's what I found. The felafel take too long to cook unless you deep fry them, as I didn't want to do, both to try to save on the oil and calories. After all, it's cold and it's winter, and all animals adapt to the cold with a bit of extra fat. No exceptions here.

When the felafel aren't cooked through they taste pasty in the middle and the texture is not good. I also found the recipe a little bland. I added a bit more garlic (2-3 cloves) and salt (1 tsp) and think that even more flavour would be none too much for these. I also did some research and found that traditional felafel is eaten all over the middle east and that there are a few variations. They either contain fava beans or they don't. They usually contain chickpeas. They are often eaten inside pita bread with a sauce made from sesame butter and lemon, and are usually garnished with tomatoes, cucumber or lettuce, or other vegetables and sometimes even sauerkraut.

I made a simple sesame sauce with equal parts of tahini (1/4 cup), which I had poured almost all the oil off, and fresh lemon juice (half a juicy lemon), a few spoons of yoghurt, a bit of chopped parsley and a clove of garlic mashed into a paste with salt. The sauce improved the felafel a lot. It was delicious, a bit like a fluffy sesame and garlic aioli. For the vegans and milk-allergic, which I am but sometimes I can have a little, I'm sure that soy yoghurt or even soy milk could be substituted for the milk. I found chopsticks the perfect instrument to whip up this sauce, especially since I made it with the last of the tahini right in the jar.

To make a better texture, I flattened the balls before frying into small thin patties. This allowed the felafel patties to cook through in a short time (about 2 minutes), and made it possible to cook them in less oil, just enough to cover the bottom of the frying pan. I also placed the finished patties on paper to drain as they came out of the pan.

Though I ate them with brown rice, I can see them being delicious with a gluten-free pita, or perhaps inside a toasted soft tortilla, with the sauce and whatever fresh veggies are available now. Or maybe some sauerkraut. I"ll be sure to try that when I make my next batch.

I'm hoping that I will be joined in this adventure to perfect the okara felafel by some other intrepid food bloggers. Or that some of you may develop other tasty okara recipes. If you do, I'd sure appreciate you leaving a link here. Maybe we can really turn this into a chronicle as we bravely set out to feed ourselves and our families. May the force be with us, and for good measure, Roooooarrrr!

15 January, 2008

What Jack Didn't Grow

Remember the boy who traded the cow for a handful of beans?

I know we're supposed to think he was silly for trading a cow, which could give milk and butter and cheese, and possibly meat, for a handful of dry beans that couldn't make even a good-sized pot of soup.

But if they had been just ordinary soy beans, and he used them as seed to grow more, and then saved the seed and grew a field of beans and had enough to eat all winter, and not only that but made soymilk, and okara (the cooked soybean meal left after making soy milk), and enough felafel for the whole family, then maybe we wouldn't be thinking he made a bad bargain.

And of course he saved some seed to grow his field of beans year after year, so he had enough extra beans to trade for other vegetables at the market, maybe eventually even a cow, which he fed well on soybeans from his field, and he got from another young sprout smart enough to know a good trade when she saw it.

One "magic" bag of organic soybeans from the Anew store (if you can't grow your own): 399 yen

: free-ish.

Labour (1 to 1 1/2 hours on a Sunday): free and fun too, if you're a bit of a food geek like me.

Results: 1 quart/liter of delicious soy milk, used to make a couple cups of vanilla soy milk, which go great in a pot of morning coffee, make two wonderful breakfasts when poured on top of brown rice and raisins, and make one recipe (with a bit more soy milk) of Vegan Chocolate Almost-Instant Pudding.

Enough okara to make about 30-40 felafel, which eaten with some brown rice, and followed by the chocolate pudding with coconut in it, make a nice Sunday feast.

Magic? You decide.

Here are the extremely easy to follow and useful videos that made it all possible, courtesy of a wonderful poster to youtube. A big thank you for your generousity, Ms. Magic Chef, (Sarah?) whoever you are.

How to make soymilk and okara:

Okara felafel:

12 January, 2008

New Year's Revolution - 3

The old way
the way we did it before
when I was six, when I had no purse
when I spun rock teacups under the porch
and decorated with weeds
my sand-spread table.

Continuing on with my Revolution Theme Mini Film Festival. I'm preparing to make a big step in the next few months, and now I'm in the brewing and stewing stage. Doing research on better ways to live and permaculture is really eye-opening. It seems to be filled with a lot of down-to-earth people, level-headed I mean, who talk sense. It seems to offer a direction we can all take, wherever we are, whatever our living circumstances, to improve the environment and return health to the earth and ourselves.

Making Gardens of Eden, even of balconies in the city, or city lots in ugly urban areas, the idea of re-greening and working with nature rather than against her is old and new and the kind of revolution that we can all participate in, no matter our ideologies or differences of ideology about which green products to support, or whether to travel by air or not, or how to live responsibly.

We can all make gardens. We can grow fresh air and fresh food. And we can save money and decrease food miles by doing it. And it's not as hard as you think.

When I came here there was a pile of sand outside. A small round pile where flowers had been growing and died off. I cleaned it up and made a small raised bed. Really small, maybe 2-3 feet across. First I tried vegetables but the soil was not good enough to support them. They were mostly things that I was accustomed to putting in a garden in Canada, lettuce, carrots and radishes. They grew but were too tiny to be much good to eat. Then I tried herbs. I tried all kinds both in the bed and in pots but I found that the hardiest were Rosemary and Apple mint. At first my Rosemary bush was tiny and didn't seem to grow much. Finally after a year of it looking puny I decided to cut a little for cooking anyway. Surprise. When I trimmed it, it expanded. Shoots surrounded the cuts and the bush stretched up and filled out. From that I learned that plants heal from being trimmed by producing more branches. Makes sense ecologically. And today I have a wonderful almost chest high well-established aromatic and useful bush. This past Christmas I trimmed it and all the students in my adult classes made mini wreathes for their homes. And I used it to fill the vases in the shrine in my room, make fragrant bouquets with that resin scent so reminiscent of Christmas evergreens, and so absent in Japan, since almost everyone uses artificial trees. And of course sometimes I use it for cooking.

I also have a self-renewing Apple Mint patch which is full of scent and makes great tea or can be used for recipes using mint or delicate bouquets. Since the vines grow up and mostly die in the winter, they form a roof with warmed air space to shelter the new plants which grow all winter underneath. When the weather gets warm enough, perhaps in April , I just cut off the dry upper layer and compost it, and have a lovely new green garden already established underneath. Because of the shelter of the Rosemary and mint (a kind of mini greenhouse) I can also grow Lemon Balm all winter. It snuggles among the branches of the Rosemary and under the canopy of mint.

And in the summer my garden is filled with small lavender butterflies.

But even if you aren't as lucky as me with an outdoor garden space, you can grow on a balcony and in pots. You can create a green "bubble" with either a lattice, or as my friend Terrie used to do by putting up a criss-cross of string or net. If you make a "roof" of vines, it will increase the heat and moisture so that you can grow longer and earlier. The concrete also absorbs heat which is great during the colder months. I remember she had mature basil plants very early, maybe in April.

And you can grow tomatoes, green beans, herbs, cucumbers and maybe even squash this way. Organically.

When I started gardening here I didn't have a clue. I tried lots of herbs that really didn't like it here very much though they grew well for awhile. I've had a lot of plants I bought at a plant store or nursery die on me. But as Terrie used to say "The plants will tell you what they need". I used to think she was a little loopy. But now I understand. She meant trust yourself and experiment, because no one knows what will work in any given environment without trying it. Just try and pay attention and you will, after awhile, discover what works in the environment you live in. What the plants like and what you like. You will adapt to your environment and make it more friendly at the same time. Happy discovering and happy growing, in all ways.

For inspiration take a look at these videos with Bill Mollison showing a balcony garden. It's at the very end of the first video and the beginning of the second. But the six-part series, called "The Permaculture Concept" from Australian TV, is so good you might want to see them all. In that case, you can click the Youtube name inside the video frame, go there, and find the others in the sidebar.

The Permaculture Concept, Part 1

The Permaculture Concept, Part 2

10 January, 2008

New Year's Revolution - 2

I revolve to do it in pine-painted air
salted, with a side of mud
grit-raising clods of earth
and resins to help me stick
closer to the sound of growing.

Permaculture, according to Bill Mollison in an interview with Alan AtKisson in the In Context Journal, is eerie.

"I'm certain I don't know what permaculture is. That's what I like about it - it's not dogmatic. But you've got to say it's about the only organized system of design that ever was. And that makes it extremely eerie."

This is my first aquaintance with Bill Mollison but after reading the extremely sane things he has to say it won't be my last. The article is plain and simply presented; there are no fancy pictures here but it doesn't need them. It's the kind of thing that makes you wake up and want to read more. Trust me; take the time to read this. And then take a look what the man has done with permaculture in India. Gardens from parched earth.

This is a teacher who has made a difference. And the hope he gives is priceless.

If you experience any problems click on the Youtube name within the video frame and go to Youtube where the download will be smoother.

Edit: The original videos I had put up are no longer available due to copywright claims, so I am substituting the first two from the Permaculture Concept Series. The rest (there are five) can be found by following the link to youtube and looking in the sidebar or doing a search.

09 January, 2008

New Year's Revolution

I resolve to turn in a new direction
not to..... not to..... not to.....
not to re-solve old problems.
Which I have decided are problems
that I can revolve,
as I do-si-do around the sun
looking for the
one more time
this year.

And in case you hate poetry in general, or just mine, how about this video on how the song "Turn, Turn, Turn" by Pete Seeger came to be and was turned into a big hit for The Byrds. And in case that's before your time and you have only heard it sung in church or your local glee club I'm adding a video so you can hear it (complete with screaming fans) as well as a modern version.

While you're listening how about signing the petition and helping turn around the misguided direction of the Japanese government. Today fingerprinting non-Japanese, tomorrow controlling the Internet. No joke; they're working on the law now.

How Pete Seeger came to write the song:

Younger Byrds:

Older Byrds:

06 January, 2008

New Direction for an Old Favourite

Pete Seeger, one of the first makers of protest songs in the U.S.A. And he's still going strong even if the buttery voice is a little faded. No problem, he's got some kids to help with the chorus.

We can still see the passion in his eyes, his will to speak truth. A really good role model for any of us leaning towards activism. Or just getting up the gumption to speak out about what 's important to the people in our lives.

This video was prepared for the Bali conference, but its message is still needed. And I just love the sentiments of the song.

"Because I love you, I'll give it one more try."