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We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other. - E.H.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The great garlic transplant

Last fall, before knew we were moving to the big city, Agata and I planted about 80 cloves of garlic in our community garden plot. We were driving through the city last night and decided to check on them - and look what happened!

In what was maybe a rash move, we decided to transplant the whole lot of them to Toronto, and see if they could a) survive the move and b) grow in our rocky Toronto garden. We dug them out of the garden and put them in little plastic pots for the drive. 

Adorable, non? The smell in the car was incredible. It was like being bathed in raw garlic for hours on end. But we all made it, more or less (the bedroom still inexplicably reeks of garlic, even though I've done  my best to launder all the evidence), and Agata planted them in our newly dug-up backyard garden in the dark.

When I went out to water them this morning, everyone looked alive. Now we cross our fingers and hope that they can hack it in the big city..

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Gardening - the Toronto edition.

I'm pretty new to gardening. Agata is more of an expert, the kind of gardener who constructs massive spreadsheets detailing what seeds to start when, when to reseed what - her garden plans look like architectural designs. I'll admit that that level of planning is not my strong suit.

I do, however, like digging in the dirt. There is something about the combination of sun, dirt and beer that really appeals to me. Our new house has a garden out back, and the presence of weeds leads us to believe that, if given the chance, it can support life. So, last Sunday we spent the day digging up the back yard and sifting through the soil for roots (it seemed like there were more roots then dirt, at some points).

                       the garden, mid-toil

I broke a pitchfork in the first half an hour of digging (in half! pretty impressive, I think), and a steady stream of neighbourhood types stopped to chat as we dug up the back yard.

We met a fellow who lives a couple of doors down who writes dystopic short stories about the future of Toronto where the power grid and all technology has failed, and Rob Ford is king. He invited us to a reading at a local bar, which he assured us is very open minded and welcoming to people like us - by which I'm going to assume he does not mean gardeners.

I had the chance to better get to know a fellow that I had met, somewhat unfortunately, a few days ago. At the time, he was screaming through my living room window about rabid dogs (one downside to having a living room that used to be a  storefront), making me cross my fingers and hope that he was just passing through the neighbourhood and not, in fact, our neighbour. I was wrong, of course.

He seemed to like us better when he realized we were planting a garden, and we made some neighbourly small talk over the fence. I felt like I was really making some progress, and maybe I was right, because he asked if he might bring a bucket and take some of our soil for his backyard.  He clearly didn't recognize how hard we were working for that soil.

Maybe one day, we'll reach a happy medium between yelling-through-the-window and popping by to borrow a bucket of garden. In the meantime, I'm making a mental note to draw the curtains.

While our storefront-living room may not be great on privacy, it does make a very effective greenhouse for starting seeds. We planted (among other things) marbled red onion seeds, which look like miniature disco balls.


It was exciting to plant some of the seeds we had saved from the garden last year. We saved seeds from the seven varieties of tomato we grew last year, as well as a couple of varieties of beans, peas, cucumbers and flowers. We even saved seeds from a blue hubbard squash that grew in our roommate's mothers garden and looks a bit like a dinosaur- and I'm excited to try and grow one ourselves.

Seed saving makes it feel like we're bringing a little bit of our old garden with us into this new space.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Preserved lemons

I've finally been convinced by all the gorgeous pictures of preserved lemons that have been floating around Punk Domestics these days. I found myself in the grocery store staring at the organic lemons and went for it.

Preserving lemons is ridiculously easy. Basically you just wash and cut up the lemons, pack them with sea salt and stuff them in a jar. After a month or so, you are ready to throw them in anything Moroccan tangines to salads, vegetable dishes and marinades. These lemons are preserved whole, and the result is a tangy, intensely lemony ingredient that goes well in a range of dishes.

You'll need:

Organic lemons
Sea salt
A clean mason jar

Step one. Buy organic lemons, and wash them really well. You'll want organic because you'll be eating the skins.

Step two. Cut the ends off the lemons - just enough to get to the fruit inside. Squeeze about a tablespoon of juice from each lemon into your jar.

                        this requires more effort then one might imagine

Step three. Cut a cross in the top of each lemons, leaving about an inch at the bottom of the lemon intact.

Step four. Pack the lemon with sea salt. Use a lot - about one and a half tablespoons per lemon.

Step five. Pack the lemons into the mason jar. No need to sterilize the mason jar first, but do make sure its clean. Pack the lemons in as tight as you can - I used ten lemons and one large mason jar. Don't be afraid to really pack them down. When all the lemons are in the jar, fill up any remaining space with fresh lemon juice.

Step six. Leave the lemons at room temperature for about a month, or until they are soft. After that you can store them in the refrigerator.

If you're wondering what on earth to do with preserved lemons, I've made a list of promising recipes. They turn up a lot in Moroccan cooking, and especially in Moroccan tangine dishes, although I've also seen a range of different uses for them.

Chickpea tangine with preserved lemon
Chicken with olives, preserved lemon and coriander
Preserved lemon semifreddo with basil syrup (scroll down to the third recipe - although the other two look great too)
Preserved lemon with spring vegetable risotto 

Waiting a month is going to be the hard part.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Rice and beans

Life is feeling busy these days, and I've been looking for fast, easy recipes that I can make ahead and eat over the course of a few days.

This version of rice and beans is awesome - it takes under ten minutes to throw together and it's full of fresh ingredients and flavour. If leftovers are looking a little sad the next day, you can throw in fresh tomato or avocado to bring'er back to life.

All of the amounts here are estimates. It's a bit of a throw-in-what-you've-got kind of a recipe. Also, you will notice that there is a LOT of cilantro in here. I really like cilantro, but I understand that this is not necessarily a universal sentiment. Follow your heart.

You need:

4 cups cooked rice - leftover works well
2 cups black beans, rinsed
2 tomatoes, diced
1 avocado, cut into strips
3/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup corn
2 red onions
1 red thai chili, or more to taste
Juice of 2 limes (or to taste), more to garnish.
salt and pepper

1. Put on the rice, if you don't have any leftover.
2. Chop red onions and the red chili. Cook in a bit of vegetable oil over medium heat until soft (about 5 minutes).
3. Throw in the rice, black beans and corn. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the rice starts to brown in spots and the corn is cooked through. (Note - I used frozen corn, and just threw it straight into the pan. It worked out fine.)
4. Remove from heat. Throw in the lime juice, diced tomatoes, and cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with sliced avocado and sliced lime.

Friday, March 16, 2012

New house crush

I think I'm beginning to fall for our new house.

It took some time. When we first got here, it had all the elements we were looking for. It had a big back yard (enough for the garden and the dog to share), it had a tonne of space and a full basement for storage and lots of light and a big kitchen.  In that sense, we hit the jackpot.

But the house wasn't much to look at. It seemed to have been a frat house of some kind in the past, and there were holes in the walls and cigarette butts and beer bottles everywhere, and the paint was musty yellow and grimy. And, the house used to be a corner store, a feature that resulted in a slightly awkward layout and a lot of windows, some of which were covered in newspaper when we got there.

After some major re-painting (with the help of lots of friends and lots of beer), and window cleaning, and wall-patching, and TLC, the house has really started to win me over. Being in an old corner store means you get lots of light, and nice curtains gives us a bit of privacy at night.
Anyways, here's our store-front living room. I might just be in love.

We even managed to work around the fact that we all had many bookshelves, and they all look different. The wacky book-wall has grown on me as well.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mushroom and lentil soup with horseradish cream

Someone told me once that in the spring, summer and winter are wrestling each other for control, and that pretty much explains the weather around here these days. Take today - pretty much, it's summer. People are walking around in shorts and t-shirts, crocuses are poking up on the lawn and we just hung our laundry outside for the first time in the season. It's beautiful.

But that's today. On Monday, it was a blizzard. And that's when I made this soup. It was a hearty soup kind of a day then. The combination of dried and fresh mushrooms give the soup a deep, rich flavour, and the lentils make it earthy and filling and cheap enough to feed an army with.

But the soup is not really the point here. Vegan horseradish cream  is the point. Drizzled on top of the soup, it contrasts the rich earthy flavours of the soup with a tangy heat and adds a certain wow factor that I don't usually associate with lentil soup (and don't get me wrong, I love lentil soup.) And it's really pretty, which is important when one is trying to woo one's new vegan roommates.

You'll need:

For the soup

2 tbsp olive oil
5 small carrots, diced
1 medium red onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 cups button mushrooms (or something fancier, but I only had button)
1 cup dried mushrooms (the polish kind are best. I have no idea what kind they are, but they have a wonderful forest-y taste)
1/4 tsp dried thyme or a few sprigs fresh
1 3/4 cups dried brown lentils
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste

For the horseradish creme

2 tablespoons horseradish
1 tablespoon coconut cream

1. Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover them with 2 cups of hot water. Leave them to soften.

2. Finely chop the onion, mushrooms and carrots. In a large pot saute the carrots, onion and garlic in olive oil until they begin to get soft. Add the diced fresh mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms are softened and browning, 5-8 minutes.

3. Add the dried mushrooms and almost all the water you soaked them in. Leave the water in the very bottom of the bowl, which tends to be a bit gritty.

4. Add an additional 5 cups of water, the lentils and the thyme. Partially cover and allow it to simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. Add the sesame oil at the end.

5. While the soup is simmering, combine the horseradish and coconut cream and mix well.

6. Drizzle the horseradish cream on top of the soup and garnish (if you have it, which I didn't) with a sprig of thyme. Your boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend/grandmother will be duly impressed.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Chili-lime tofu with collards and brown rice

We survived the move! Every muscle in my body still hurts, and I never want to see a slice of pizza again - but here we are, more or less settled in the big city. The house is (almost) set up, we've become familiar with the local dog park, and I'm learning to bike in crazy city traffic. I think we're going to make it, folks.

The day after we moved I woke up early (no curtains on the windows yet) and picked my way over the piles of boxes to the kitchen. Even though it was barely 8:30 in the morning, my roommate Meagh was already tackling the huge piles of boxes and putting dishes away. It looks like we have some common unpacking priorities, Meagh and I - kitchens come first. You gotta eat, right?

So here it is, the inaugural recipe post from our new house. Vegan chili-lime tofu with collards and brown rice - because really, fuck pizza. This dish has a really nice balance of flavours - hot, sweet, salty, and sour with just a bit of bitterness from the greens. The sauce is quick to put together, and when you throw it onto the hot tofu, it turns into a beautiful glaze that packs a real punch. It may be chocked full of sugar and salt - but all those dark leafy greens balance it out, right? 

This recipe is adapted from the amazing (and sadly, now inactive) www.veganyumyum.com. I will post the original recipe below, which serves 2 or 3 - I doubled it for four people with great results.

You'll need:

1 Block Tofu, extra firm, 14oz
1 bunch collard greens - deveined
1 1/2 cups brown rice
zest of 1/2 lime

For the glaze:

3 Tbs Sugar
3 Tbs Reduced Sodium Tamari (or soy sauce)
1 3/4 Tbs Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 Zest of the Lime
1/2 tsp Red Chili Flakes (or 1-2 fresh hot chilies, minced)
1 Clove Garlic, pressed, optional
1/4 tsp Salt
4 mint leaves, diced.

1. Put the rice on to cook, and throw in the zest of 1/2 a lime for some extra flavour. While you're at it, preheat your oven to 350.

2. Combine all the glaze ingredients and stir until thoroughly combined.

3. Cut the tofu into thick slices, and then quarter the slices into triangles (just to look fancy).

4. Spread out the tofu on a baking tray, and bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until the tofu turns golden at the edges. This is one of my favorite ways of getting really chewy tofu - unlike frying, baked tofu tends to stay together and tends to absorb future flavours really well. No need to add oil or anything, just toss it in the oven.

5. Prep the collards. Take out their tough spines and slice the leaves into thin strips.

6. Throw the collards in a wok on medium-high with about 3 tbsp of water, a tbsp of lime and a pinch of salt, and cover. They should steam themselves in a few minutes. After about 5 minutes, remove the cover and let the remaining water boil  off.

7. Take the tofu out of the oven and throw it in a hot frying pan with a little bit of oil (less then 1 tbsp). Once the tofu is hot, throw in the glaze and wait for it to boil - this should take only a few seconds. Toss the tofu in the sauce, making sure everything is well coated, then remove the pan from the heat. The glaze should turn glazey at this point, turning sticky and shiny.

8. Serve the collards and tofu over rice, and garnish it with slices of lime.

So there it is - the first ever (real) dinner in our new pad. Look at those game-faces! Smiling through the exhaustion. What gems.

I have some really, really adorable roommates. And I think this is shaping up to be a pretty awesome house.

I promise to post pictures soon, once we have more then just the kitchen set up. And now that I live with the cutest vegan couple out there, and seeing as I show my love primarily through food, I hope to bring you lots of delicious vegan recipes in the weeks and months to come. Aaand maybe the occasional meat-y something as well.