Spicy Thai Soup with Tofu

Food

Spicy Thai Soup

There is very little I find more comforting than a hot bowl of soup, especially when that bowl of soup is spicy enough to induce an evening of dyspepsia and acute gastritis.

Ok, this soup isn’t that spicy, but it should leave you with at least a mild case of belly burn (a sensation I find to be incredibly satisfying). Such is true for most Thai food, which is why food from the southeast region of Asia is among my favourite.

Visiting Thailand during my Tour de Southeast Asia in 2011 was a very conflicting experience. I was tempted by exotic, fiery street food at every turn that wreaked absolute havoc on my digestive system. But I was in delicious Thailand! What was I to do? (Stuff myself full of the delectable local fare and pay the consequences later, of course.)

This soup is definitely reminiscent of soups typically consumed in Thailand, but is much less likely to cause a peptic ulcer.

It is also a very versatile soup in terms of the ingredients you can use. My plan was to include sauteed mushrooms, because I love me some fungi and put them in almost everything I cook. A thorough search through my refrigerator yielded no mushrooms, so after a good, hard cry I decided to substitute celery.

And the celery was good! It gave the soup some crunch, which I really liked.

This soup also calls for jalapenos, which I forgot to include until after I had taken a photo. I planned to retake the photo the next morning, but in a state of post-slumber haze decided the original picture would suffice. So just pretend there are vibrant rings of jalapenos nestled against the chunks of tofu and sliced onions.

This spicy Thai soup recipe is incredibly tasty, and vegan! (You could deveganize this recipe by adding 2 1/2 pounds or so of chicken instead of tofu, which I bet is really tasty, but I am partial to coagulated bean curd.)

Enjoy!

Ingredients ☑ Vegan

  • 3 stalks lemongrass, bulbs thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 2″ piece of fresh ginger root, chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 package of tofu, drained and sliced into 1″ cubes
  • 12 oz mushrooms or 4 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 2 tsp Thai red curry paste
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 (14 oz) cans coconut milk
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 2 fresh jalapeno peppers, sliced into rings

Method

  1. Heat 3 tbsp vegetable oil in a pan and add tofu cubes. Fry until all sides are golden and crispy. Set aside.
  2. Stir lemongrass, garlic, and ginger together in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 30 minutes.
  3. Strain chicken broth and set aside. Discard lemongrass, garlic, and ginger.
  4. Heat vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add celery or mushrooms and cook 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in curry paste, fish sauce, and lime juice until just combined. Add vegetable broth and coconut milk. Return to a summer and cook on low for 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Skim off any excess oil that rises to the top and discard.
  7. Add red onion and stir until softened, about 5 minutes.
  8. Remove from heat and garnish with jalapeno slices.
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Cat Bow Tie (Pattern Included)

Knitting

Cat Bow Tie

Yarn: Any will do. I used DK, but a double strand of fingering yarn would work too

Needle size: 3.75mm (US 5) straight needles

This is the post the Internet has been waiting for. Dashing, chic, and lush with contemporary flare, cat bow ties are the perfect accessory for the modern feline.

In fact, you should probably abandon whatever it is you’re doing right now and start making your beloved felis catus one of these super easy and immoderately stylish bow ties, because the benefits of doing so are innumerable. Cat bow ties are a clever way to use up scrap yarn, they knit up extremely quickly, giving novice knitters an excellent opportunity to hone their knitting skills, and they bequeath your cat an air of acuity and refinement that will do wonders for his self esteem.

My cat Aldous was kind enough to model his bow tie for me, and I think he looks very smart. Here he is, sporting his swanky neck accessory, and posing in front of a Doc Martens shoe box (now cat bed) he recently appropriated:

aldousedit4

So dapper! Aldous also has one in purple, which he swaps with the green bow tie as his mood and current ensemble dictate.

aldousedit2

The nice thing about this kitting pattern is you can use almost any needle size and any kind of yarn (except for itchy wool-based yarns, which might be uncomfortable and a little too hot for your cat). I used 3.75mm needles, but almost any size will do, so long as you adjust the number of stitches so your finished product is still bow tie-sized.

Here’s my cat bow tie pattern so the kitties in your life can be the snazzy, trailblazing fashionistas they’ve secretly always wanted to be:

Bow
Cast on 17 sts.
Knit in K1, P1 (seed stitch) until piece measures 10cm.
Cast off.

Front Band
Cast on 6 sts.
R1: K
R2: P
Repeat rows 1 and 2 until piece measures 5cm.
Cast off.

Neck Band
Cast on 7 sts.
R1: K2, P1, K1, P1, K2
R2: P2, K1, P1, K1, P2
Repeat rows 1 and 2 until piece comfortably fits over your cat’s head (mine ended up being 20cm long).
Cast off.

Now you have three pieces that look something like this:

piecesedit

To assemble your bow tie, wrap the front band around the centre of the bow, pinching the bow in the middle. Sew the ends of the front band together. Sew the ends of the neck band together. Place the bow where the neck band ends meet and sew into place.

And that’s it! Super simple. The whole bow tie knits up in only a few short hours. Incidentally, this is the same amount of time it takes to power-watch a season of Golden Girls. I’ll let you decide what to do with that information.

Fingerless Mitts (Pattern Included)

Knitting

Fingerless Mitts

Yarn: 50g Cascade 220 Solids from The Purple Purl

Yarn weight: DK / 8 ply

Needle size: 4mm (US 6) straight needles

Mail carriers and dermatillomaniacs rejoice! Finally a winter hand sheath that offers the warmth and comfort of a traditional mitten without the stifling finger confinement.

The morning following the completion of these Fingerless Mitts was a frigid one, so I slipped on my newly knitted mittens in an effort to keep the bottom two thirds of my hands toasty while I brushed ice and snow off my car.

Things went swimmingly until I scraped off a considerable portion of my precious hand flesh on some jagged ice that had formed on the roof of my car. (Unfortunately I didn’t notice how severe the lacerations were until I had started driving to work, vital fluids leaking from my hand wounds onto my beautiful mittens.)

The lesson to be learned here is that fingerless mitts, while rife with aesthetic appeal, are not ideal for all activities, for example those involving sharp things.

Regardless, I was so pleased with this Fingerless Mitts pattern I knitted a second, almost identical pair (but with gold contrast!), cause a girl’s gotta have mitt options.

This Fingerless Mitts pattern knits up very quickly and is super easy to follow. They’re knitted on straight needles, which was a nice change from my usual circular knitting projects, AND they allow for ardent displays of spirit fingers while maintaining the thermal comfort of my lovely metacarpals.

The pattern.

Baked Mini Cheesecakes

Food

Baked Mini Cheesecakes

Whoever came up with the idea of making cake out of cheese deserves an extremely vigorous high five.

And let’s not forget the cunning mastermind who made the first miniature version of something.

I mean, name one thing that doesn’t taste way better in a slightly shrunken state. Mini muffins are approximately 2350569 times better than their regular-sized counterparts. And mini Chips Ahoy cookies? Don’t even get me started.

Cheesecake is, of course, no exception.

Shelly’s birthday was last weekend, and I had the super thoughtful and industrious idea to bake her a surprise birthday pie. I was all prepared to spend my Saturday afternoon buying pie ingredients, laboriously rolling out a double crust, and packing that bad boy full of fresh apple and pear slices. Then I accidentally got drunk and told her all about my pie plans.

I fully expected her to be ecstatic about the impending birthday pie, but instead she leaned in and said “You know what I want more than pie? Mini cheesecakes.”

That ungrateful she-devil.

Just kidding! Cheesecake is way less involved than pie, and so delightfully cheesy, so I was pretty open to the idea.

I’ve made all kinds of cheesecake in my day: no-bake, crustless, sour cream-based, yogurt-based, ricotta-based, goat cheese-based, but none quite as satisfying as the mini cheesecake. These mini cheesecakes are incredibly easy to make and taste great topped with fruit, chocolate, jam, or just plain. Plus, mini things can be eaten with your hands, and utensils are absolutely for chumps.

This recipe makes 12 mini cheesecakes and includes enough dairy to challenge even the brawniest of digestive systems:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup(s) graham cracker crumbs
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 cup(s) ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/4 cup(s) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup(s) icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 eggs

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F and line a muffin pan with cupcake liners. Grease cupcake liners.
  2. Combine graham cracker crumbs with melted butter. Spoon evenly into muffin cups (approximately 1 tbsp per cup) and use something round and firm to press the crumbs into the bottom of the cups.
  3. In a large bowl, beat ricotta until smooth. Add cream cheese, vanilla, and sugar and mix using an electric mixer or food processor until smooth.
  4. Add eggs one at a time and mix into batter.
  5. Evenly distribute cake mix into muffin cups.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until set completely and slightly golden around the edges. Let cool 1 hour and then refrigerate for 2-3 hours. Remove paper lining and top with fresh fruit.

Note: These cheesecakes will collapse if you attempt to remove the paper before they have been sitting in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours. It’s probably best to make them a day ahead, but if you’re tight on time you can serve them in their paper cups and just pretend they’re supposed to be that way.

“Shades of Grey” by Jasper Fforde

Books

Shades of Grey

Part fantasy, part dystopian, part satire, part sci-fi, part thriller, part romance, Shades of Grey is the first in a genre-defying series by Jasper Fforde, where one’s place in the social hierarchy is determined by his or her limited colour perception.

Jasper Fford is the author of the acclaimed Thursday Next series, but was completely unknown to me when I picked Shades of Grey up off the shelves of my favourite book shop, Circus Books and Music.

If you’re a book-loving Torontonian like myself, you need to pay Circus Books and Music an immediate visit. The store is owned by a super friendly bookmonger called Ron who always has a fun story or anecdote to share when I’m checking out. And he almost always has what I’m looking for in stock. I don’t know how he does it! I’ve left Circus Books and Music with a massive stack of paperbacks in my arms on numerous occasions.

On this particular day, Ron sold me a copy of Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, a biography on Mao Zedong, and Fforde’s Shades of Grey. My plan was as follows: read the first page of each book and start with whichever best caught my interest.

I picked up Shades of Grey, began reading the first page, and didn’t put it down again for the next two hours.

Shades of Grey immediately drew me into its peculiar, colour-coded world of Chromatacia, where ‘Yellows’ make up the elite, ‘Greys’ (those with no colour perception at all) comprise society’s lowest rung, doctors called “swatchmen” show swatches of colour to patients to rid what ails them, and certain shades, such as Lincoln green, are outlawed due to their narcotic properties. Shades of Grey is weird in all the right ways.

The story follows Eddie Russett, a 'Red' with excellent colour perception, who gets sent to East Carmine to conduct a chair census. There he meets Jane, an ill-tempered and unruly 'Grey', and together they seek to uncover the false evangelism that keeps their world intact.

This was easily the most visual and imaginative book I’ve read in a very long time. It’s Terry Pratchet’s Discworld meets George Orwell’s 1984 meets Terry Gilliams’s Brazil. It’s full of bizarre details, fortuitous plot turns, and inventive wordplay.

And that’s not all! In addition to being the literary equivalent of a thermonuclear detonation, Shades of Grey is a very clever work of satire. Citizens of Chromatacia live in a world of planned economies and repressive bureaucracy. They are coerced into following strange, arbitrary rules such as rule 1.1.19.02.006, which states that team sports are mandatory in order to build character. Character is there to give purpose to team sports, or rule 3.6.23.12.028, which dictates that Ovaltine may not be drunk at any time other than before bed, and prestige is awarded to those who possess arbitrary characteristics (i.e., colour perception) that are outside their realm of control.

Shades of Grey is an incredibly amusing and whimsical novel, and one that doesn’t hold the reader’s hand as she progresses through it. In fact, that was my favourite part about the novel: it felt like I was exploring the world of Chromatacia myself, experiencing the same confusion and thrills as its inhabitants.

I tend to get caught up reading books that are very serious and reflective; Shades of Grey reminded me just how fun reading can be.

Jasper Fford’s followup, Shades of Grey 2: Painting by Numbers, will purportedly be available later this year, with two more novels scheduled to be released shortly after. Colour me very excited.

Baked Honey Lime Salmon with Sweet & Spicy Sauce

Food

salmon

Sweet, delicious, flaky salmon. Why don’t I cook you more often? Oh that’s right, you’re $15 a freaking pound. What’s the deal?

I suppose I do live in the middle of a giant land mass… and fish tend to prefer a wetter milieu… but still. I’d eat salmon every day if it weren’t so costly.

Did you know that salmon contains tryptophan? Tryptophan is an amino acid our clever little bodies convert into serotonin, which makes us feel happy.

Tryptophan is one of those essential amino acids, meaning our bodies can’t produce it on their own. It has to come from the food we eat. If we don’t get the proper levels of serotonin, things get a bit ugly. We start to feel tired, irritable, anxious, and depressed. Maybe not all at once, but you definitely won’t be on your A game. (I can’t believe I just used a sports idiom. I had to google it to make sure I’m using it right, and then I asked an athletically inclined coworker just to be sure. I’m bad at sports analogies.)

When I do cook fish, it’s usually an indication that
a) Shelly has been complaining about eating veggies all week long;
b) I’m feeling motivated enough to walk all the way to the fish market; and/or
c) I’ve been craving some omega-3 goodness.

This past weekend was a combination of all three. And the results were so tasty!

This salmon recipe includes a sweet and spicy sauce I like to smother my entire meal with, but if spicy isn’t your thing the recipe tastes great with just the marinade. Actually, you could save the marinade once you’re through marinating the fish, simmer it on the stove for a few minutes, and serve it on the side. That… sounds really good. Next time!

Here’s my baked honey lime salmon recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. salmon
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • 3 tbsp. soy sauce
  • sesame seeds, for garnish

Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp. sriracha
  • 1 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tbsp. honey or Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. honey

Method

  1. Combine lime juice, honey, and soy sauce. Put salmon in a resealable bag and add marinade. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 450°F. Remove salmon from marinade. Discard marinade. (Or, if you’re going for the non-spicy version, simmer the marinade on the stove for a few minutes and set aside.)
  3. Place salmon in a greased baking pan and cook until flaky inside, about 20 minutes. Top with spicy sauce and garnish with sesame seeds.

Condo Sweater (Pattern Included)

Knitting

Condo Sweater

A few weeks ago I attended the Old Book and Paper Show where a lovely old man selling vintage fashion magazines slipped an old knitting pattern between the pages of my purchase:

Condo Sweater

I looked at the women on the front and saw they were a paragon of modern beauty. Their feathered hair and liberally applied rouge spoke to me, and I immediately knew their stylish accoutrement belonged in my wardrobe.

A couple of weeks later was the 16th annual Knitter’s Frolic, where I picked up some super soft baby alpaca yarn from The Purple Purl.

This is a baby alpaca:

alpaca

They are so cute! Like, violently cute. Why isn’t this more talked about? Be mine, baby alpaca. You can move into my 1-bedroom apartment and we’ll eat sweet potato burritos and watch documentaries about Belizean cocoa farmers and I’ll brush your soft fur and you’ll keep me warm and we’ll be friends always. Deal?

I started knitting the Condo Sweater pattern with my new baby alpaca yarn, but it didn’t go very well. The stitch it uses didn’t translate well to the yarn I was using and the fit wasn’t quite right, so I started over, changed to seed stitch, and only used the pattern as a guide.

Seed Stitch

And I’m exceedingly happy with the result! It’s super soft, and drapes really nicely. This pattern definitely calls for a good, high quality yarn; regular acrylic would be much too stiff.

Here’s the pattern for my version of the Condo Sweater:

Yarn: 200g Pima Nebla baby alpaca by Diamond Luxury Collection in Willow.

Yarn weight: DK / 8 ply

Needle size: 5mm (US 8) and 10mm (US 15)

Garment sizing: Small: 32-34″ bust; Medium: 36-38″ bust; Large: 40-42″ bust

Front
Using smaller needles, cast on 64 (68, 72) stitches.
Knit in K1, P1 ribbing for 2″.
Decrease 9 stitches evenly on the last row.
Change to larger needles. Knit K1, P1 (seed stitch) until garment measures 19″ from the bottom edge, or desired length. Cast off loosely.

Back
Work same as front.

Sleeves
Sew the front and back pieces together at the shoulder seams, leaving enough room to comfortably pull the garment over your head (sew about 15 stitches together on each shoulder).
With right sides facing and using the smaller needles, pick up and knit 30 (32, 34) stitches along each shoulder edge so you have a total of 60 (64, 68) stitches making up each sleeve edge.
Knit in K1, P1 ribbing for 8 rows, or desired length. Cast off loosely and repeat on other shoulder. Stitch side seams together.

condoedit3

Beet Hummus

Food

Beet Hummus

If you think you don’t like beets, you’re wrong. Just so you know. Because beets are amazing.

I too used to be anti-beet. I never ate them growing up, and always thought they were ugly, mysterious, and smelled a little. I was right about the smelly part. They smell like dirt. Why would anyone want to put something that smells like soil in their mouth?

Beet hummus is why. This recipe will make a beet lover out of even the most squeamish beet skeptics.

I mean do you see how beautiful it is? It’s hot pink! More food needs to be hot pink.

This recipe was my introduction to cooking with beets. First time eating beets, even. I saw a beet dip recipe on the internet somewhere, and a switch flipped somewhere deep in my cranial cavity. Suddenly I was all, “Beets… are the answer. To everything.”

Since then I’ve experimented with beet salads and side dishes, beet cakes and beet donuts. Is there anything you can’t do with beets? I’m going to go ahead and say no. Definitely, explicitly, categorically no.

I’ve made several variations of this beet hummus recipe, and this is the version I’ve had the most success with:

Ingredients ☑ Vegan

  • 2 medium beets
  • 2 14oz cans chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 chilies (optional)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp parsley
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Wrap each beet in tin foil and place in the oven. Cook until you can pierce each beet with a fork, about 45 minutes. Remove foil and let cool.
  2. Chop beets and add to food processor. Add all other ingredients and puree until smooth.
  3. Garnish with additional parsley and serve.

“No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy

Books

No Country for Old Men

Anton Chigurh, light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul. Your chassis is a beastly monolith, and your mind a labyrinth of synaptic magnetism. Just kidding, Anton Chigurh is a certified freak.

“Freak” might not be the appropriate term here. Freak implies a certain level of discernible humanity, of which Chigurh is void. I remember writing an essay on No Country for Old Men for a film studies class I took in university where I argued that Anton Chigurh isn’t a human being at all, but evil incarnate, and after reading the novel I am inclined to agree with myself.

No Country for Old Men is Cormac McCarthy’s ninth novel, published in 2005, and arguabley his most accessible work. And by accessible, I mean readable.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Cormac McCarthy novels. I toured the outskirts of Mexico with John Grady and Billy Parham in the Border Trilogy, I endured the apocalyptic terrain of The Road, I suffered the butchery and despair of Blood Meridian, I followed the loathsome Lester Ballard through the caves of Sevier County, Tennessee in Child of God. But McCarthy uses a writing style that creates some serious distance between the story and its reader.

Cormac McCarthy’s writing is incredibly terse; every word is precise and deliberate, and every paragraph expertly devised. For me, this creates some of the most satisfying writing I’ve ever read. But I totally get when someone gives up on on of his novels halfway and says “I just couldn’t do it”.

No Country for Old Men is an exception to what I will henceforth refer to as the McCarthy Phenomenon™ whereby readers either a) are engrossed in and obsessed with his books, eternally desperate for his next work, a haiku, a leaked grocery list, anything or b) can’t stand his dry, unpunctuated drivel.

This is McCarthy’s most plot-driven work, featuring blood-drenched shootouts and one of the most foul, nefarious characters ever written: Anton Chigurh.

Oh, Anton. You’re so misunderstood! All you want is for fate to unfold as it should. So what if that means lynching a few vagrants with a cattle gun? Your use of the good old fashioned coin toss to determine the fate of your unsuspecting victims is just, in a way, right?

Ok, ok. Let’s give credit where credit is due: Anton Chigurh is a psychopath. He is a horrifying, odious creature, who kills almost everyone he encounters.

Throughout No Country for Old Men Chigurh is portrayed as remorseless and void of compassion, appearing to be the archetypal unstoppable evil. However, he conducts his life according to a very rigid moral code, one that ensures every man is held accountable for his doings; Chigurh does not kill without purpose.

The scene that takes place between Chigurh and Carla Jean at the end is undoubtedly my favourite. To me, it gives us the truest glimpse at Chigurh’s twisted morality:

“When I came into your life your life was over. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is the end. You can say that things could have turned out differently. That there could have been some other way. But what does that mean? They are not some other way. They are this way.”

Chilling! And somewhat comforting to know there’s a method to his madness.

Another character in No Country for Old Men I’d like to discuss is the sheriff. When I first saw the movie I wasn’t particularly compelled by the sheriff (possibly due to my Tommy Lee Jones aversion), but the literary version of Sherriff Bell was a sweety! (Note that I do not use that word lightly). Traditional, uxorious, reasonable, a true proponent of morality.

Bell hunts Chigurh throughout the story. Luckily for him, he and Chigurh never cross paths. (Even a chance encounter would have resulted in a cattle bolt being lodged somewhere in his frontal lobe.)

Though he doesn’t realize it, Chigurh defeats Bell in the end. Throughout the story Bell struggles to reconcile his traditional ways with the modern world, and finally decides to renounce the title of Sheriff; for him, Chigurh is an emblem of the times, and a sign that modern criminality is unfit for oldtimers like himself (hence the title of the book).

No Country for Old Men was an excellent read. It wasn’t my favourite McCarthy novel, as much as I loved it, but it’s an absolute must-read for McCarthy fans and, in my opinion, the best starting point for McCarthy first timers. Or if you’re just a sucker for books featuring a serious bad boy.