Cheeze Toast and Mamafish!

I discovered one of the coolest things ever today! One of my favorite local coffeeshops now serves Vegan Cheeze Toast. I stopped into Otherlands Coffeehouse to do a little work on my laptop, and lo and behold, a little sign next to the register read, "We now have vegan cheeze toast!" I had to order some, along with my Vanilla Soy Coffee Freeze:

Doesn't it look all melty and delicious?! I think it's Follow Your Heart, but I'm not certain. Whatever it is, it's delicious. The fresh bread is grilled so it has a hearty just-came-off-the-flame taste.

I noshed on the bread while working on my new gay rights news blog for the Memphis Flyer (the altweekly newspaper I work for) website. It's called Memphis Gaydar and you can link to it here if you care to read about LBGT issues in Memphis. Right now, our county commission is considering an ordinance that would make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity for workers in county government. Amazingly, the radical right Bible-thumping crazies have managed to convince several commission members that gay people don't deserve equal rights (however, a good number of the not-crazy churches are standing in support of the ordinance). They county commission will vote on that today.

In other news, I finally mailed a birthday gift for Shellyfish's mom as part of the 60-Day Project over on her blog, Musings from the Fishbowl. Shellyfish asked her readers to sign up to send her mother a small gift for her 60th birthday, and then we were all assigned weeks in which to mail our gifts. My week was last week, and I sent this Zhena's Gypsy Tea (fair trade and organic!) and a batch of my friend Uele's super-delicious locally-made Groovy Foods Civil Granola:

Happy Belated Birthday, Mamafish!

The White Temple, a different View ...

Our recent house guest was in the mood for quiet contemplation, thoughtful conversation, and visiting a couple of local temples.  Here is a sample of what we came up with.  Wat Rong Khun is well known and often photographed so this is my attempt to present a different view.

Tapas Night

Rather than chowing down on a big entree and a couple of sides, tonight's dinner was more of a "small plates" kinda thing. I'd been working on this Pepper-Crusted Cashew Goat Cheese from Vegetarian Times for days:

The cashews must soak for six hours, and the nut cheese mixture has to rest for another 12 hours. Then it's baked and chilled before serving. So when this cheeze log was finally ready, I decided to make dinner out of it.

I served it on some Crisp 'n' Light Wasa Crackers (the best flavor!):

This was phenomenal! The log remains pretty soft, so the cheeze is spreadable and it really melts in your mouth. And it only has a few ingredients — cashews, tahini, lemon juice, and oil.

I could have eaten the entire "goat cheese" log for my dinner, but instead I created these Sweet 'n' Sour Notballs for my cookbook's appetizer section:

They're basically bean and TVP balls simmered in a sweet 'n' sour barbecue sauce. It's the kind of typical Southern fare you might find lurking in a Crock Pot at some redneck church potuck. Always a fan of white trash cookin', I knew I wanted some classic trailer park-style appetizers in the book. These balls would also be tasty served atop spaghetti with marinara.

I also made a quick Citrus Broccoli Salad using local farmer's market broccoli:

It's really quite simple — lightly steamed broccoli seasoned with a little lemon zest, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. A light, refreshing way to enjoy broccoli on a hot almost-summer day. I was going to use it for the cookbook and then realized that the idea seemed awfully familiar. That's when I remembered Bryant Terry has a Chilled Citrus Broccoli Salad in his Vegan Soul Kitchen book. His has a few more ingredients and sounds even better, so I won't be using this recipe in my book. I'll just give it here.

Citrus Broccoli Salad

1 head broccoli, florets cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. agave nectar
salt & pepper to taste

Steam broccoli for about 4 minutes, until slightly tender but still pretty crispy. Allow to cool, and then stir in other ingredients to combine. Chill for several hours.

The Phuket Big Buddha

Update 2013 - this blog page is from May 2009 ... Some updated photos - Phuket Big Buddha July 2013

Work on the Big Buddha statue in Phuket has been going on for many years. The main Buddha image is 45 meters high and sits over 400m above sea level on a hilltop in the south of Phuket island. We head up there at least a few times per year, sometimes get some food at a little restaurant near the top of the hill, sometimes just to enjoy the views and to check on the progress of the construction. I realised recently that I had not blogged the Buddha for nearly 2 years. Last time the main statue was still covered in scaffolding. Now things look very different.

Big Buddha Phuket May 2009

As you can see, the main image is covered in marble, though the whole of the base including giant lotus leaves still needs to be marbled. It's already an impressive sight... it was already impressive a couple of years ago! Work continues slowly, donations are still being collected. It's much busier than it used to be. There's a sizeable car park now, more food and drink sellers have sprung up.. I really hope it does not get too commercial.

Prayer Bell at the Big Buddha, Phuket

As you arrive you'll find a huge bell hanging below the statue. You then walk through a temple area where souvenirs are for sale and there are many photo displays showing the building work over the years.

Information Display at the Big Buddha in Phuket

There are many donation boxes along the way - up to you! Over the years we have made many donations. You can still pay to have your name on a marble slab which will be used in the building. Somewhere in there, our names are to be found on marble and on bricks too. Having your name and the names of your loved ones as part of a Buddha statue is considered very good luck.

As you start to climb the steps, the way is lined with hundreds of bells. You can buy a bell and hang it here to ring in the wind on the hilltop. The sound of all these bells is somewhat magical.

Prayer Bells at the Phuket Big Buddha

Reaching the top of the steps you are right underneath the statue. It is very big. I can imagine that when the base is all marble the sight will be totally breathtaking.

Phuket Big Buddha (May 2009) .. before they did the eyes

Behind the Big Buddha is a smaller gold statue - I mean, not too small, about 12m high. This was completed several years ago. Impressive enough but dwarfed by the white marble Buddha!

Smaller Gold Buddha next to the Big Buddha, Phuket

We feel a close connection to the Big Buddha, having been up the mountain so many times, having seen the statue grow up from nothing.. the very first time we came up here there was little more than a pile of dirt! It's getting busier for sure, and I can see that, once finished, the Buddha will be on the itinerary of many tours. It's not just "our" Buddha any more... There's no entry fee at the moment, donations are voluntary. I hope it stays that way. But although you don't have to pay - please do leave a donation! The views will always be great - the view below is looking north along the hills.

View from the Phuket Big Buddha (May 2009)

The Big Buddha is well worth a visit. You can drive up by car or motorbike or tuk tuks will drive up here. The road is almost all paved now. It's about 6km to the top from the main road that runs between Phuket Town past Chalong Temple. The turn off is about 1km before you reach the Chalong traffic circle if you are coming from town. An easy drive from Kata or Karon beaches.

Close up of the Budhha's hand, Phuket Big Buddha

Finishing date? There is no date given for completion. There seems to be no rush. We visited last weekend and there were not many workers. But anyway, even incomplete the Buddha is one of our favourite spots... And finally a photo that I think shows a little of the scale of the Big Buddha.

Building the Big Buddha, Phuket, May 2009

Phuket Big Buddha - Location Map

View The Big Buddha of Phuket in a larger map

Move Over, Dinty Moore

My omni boyfriend loves that Dinty Moore beef stew in a can, and I seem to remember eating it a time or two when I was a kid. Even though it's got icky beef and loads of fat in it, it always looks kinda good in my boyfriend's soup bowl. I think it's just the creaminess of a stew that I crave, so decided to create a similar vegan version for my cookbook. Enter Seitan Beef Stew:

This photo was taken right after I made it, so it's still a little soupy. I found out today that it thickens considerably in the fridge. I used the ingredient list from a can of Dinty Moore to try and loosely replicate their version, only vegan-style. Plus, I added some dried herbs and local farmer's market kale for a more sophisticated taste (and some healthy greens!).

I know you're not supposed to eat stews in the spring and summer, but I'm not a fan of rules. Stew tastes good all year round, and this was deliciously comforting served with a warm slice of homemade whole wheat sourdough bread.

Beer for Breakfast!

That's right. This morning's breakfast included a touch of Young's Double Chocolate Stout — in my waffles! When I saw the Chocolate Beer Waffles in my new copy of Vegan Brunch, I knew that would be the first thing I'd try:

Topped with soy whip and organic chocolate syrup, these were almost too sinfully decadent for a weekday breakfast. But then again, I had a much easier time waking up for work this morning knowing what awaited my breakfast plate.

I made a whole batch on Monday night and stuck them in the freezer to re-heat each morning in the toaster. That makes this gourmet breakfast a super-quick morning meal. You can't actually taste the beer, but they're so chocolately and delicious.

Unfortunately, my waffle iron is starting to suck. All my waffles have either stuck to the iron or turned out pretty soggy lately. None of this batch stuck, but they definitely didn't get very crispy. Luckily, the re-toasting takes care of that. It used to be such a great waffle iron, but I guess no cheap appliance can live forever. Don't judge the recipe because I know a better waffle iron would toast these like magic.

Veggie Family Dinner

My parents and I were off work for Memorial Day, and I've been anxious to try my mom's latest cultinary discovery (soaking okra in beer before frying). So it seemed like the perfect time for her to feed me! I invited myself over for dinner (they live an hour away) and she cooked up an amazing meatless feast. Here's my plate:

There's fried cabbage (the best I've ever had ... seriously, my mom is a bad ass cook), deep-fried squash and deep-fried okra (both soaked in beer before dredging in a cornmeal/flour mixture), black-eyed peas, corn seasoned with loads of Earth Balance, a whole wheat dinner roll, and a slice of fresh tomato.

I couldn't fit the macaroni and tomatoes onto my plate, but she made that too. Here's the serving dish:

This was such a delicious meal. Even my dad didn't miss the meat! We're all huge fans of deep-fried veggies, but my mom and dad are pretty health-conscious these days. So this was a special treat. I promise to work out extra hard tomorrow to make up for all the fat I consumed tonight.

Pasta and Pie

I rarely cook big meals on Saturdays, but last night, I was in the mood to spend some time over the stove. So I made yet another tasty creation from Swell Vegan's Swell cookzine — Lentil Bolognese Over Whole Wheat Pasta:

Lentils stand in for meat in this bolognese sauce, making it a hearty and healthy alternative to traditional beefy pasta sauce. I had a pantry filled with unopened bags of lentils than a friend gave me last summer, and in trying to use them up, I've grown weary of my old lentil soup stand-by dinner. But this was a delicious and new way to use up some pantry items! Plus, the sauce contains red wine, and I'm a huge fan of that. Thanks Swell Vegan!

For dessert, I whipped up this Strawberry Pie:

I hand-picked the berries earlier in the day in a last ditch effort to stock up before berry season ends. And I'd been craving my Granny's veganized version of strawberry pie, a recipe that I'll certainly be including in my cookbook.

Unfortunately, I couldn't wait for the pie to set before digging in, so my first slice wasn't photo-worthy. I topped it with Soyatoo Whippable Soy Topping (the kind you whip yourself...I like that so much better than the kind in the spray can). I'm pretty sure I'll be having more of this for breakfast ... and maybe even for lunch.

A Good Day ...

Oppressive heat and the occasional torrential downpour are hardly conducive to a leisurely outing on the motorbike.  Yesterday afternoon the confluence of just bearable weather and an aching need to put my knees in the breeze, had me on the road and heading to a rocky outcropping in the middle of a rice field.  Passing routinely, on our main route to town, I have often thought of approaching closer for a better look.  The dirt turnoff from the main road is still doable on the Phantom but with a few more heavy rains, it would surely become off limits to such a bike.  At speed it was comfortable enough but the moment I stopped to take pictures the perspiration began flowing freely.  As it turned out, morning light would have been more complimentary to my subject but one makes do with what one is given.  As I headed around the back of the mountain to see where the trail might lead, the phone rang.  Recognizing my wife’s distinctive ringtone, I was quick to answer and put her on speaker, as removing my helmet was too slow and cumbersome.  The flip-up, modular helmet comes in handy for phone calls, refreshments and taking pictures. 

Turns out a Thai friend of ours had called from his orchard in the hills near Sop Pao and extended an invitation to come gather some lychee.  Returning home, necessitated my passing very near, so on my wife’s urging I proceeded to my new destination.  Having been there only once before, I missed the unmarked turnoff and had to stop and ask directions.  As it happened my petrol light came on, signaling the need for a top up so I kept and eye out for the ubiquitous wooden shack with a row of glass cylinders half full of the pinkish fluid my trusty steed required to quench its thirst.

Finally arriving at my destination, I was confronted with the strange vision of my friend with an unusual umbrella contraption, strapped to his head.  What it lacked in beauty, it made up for in function and practicality, however.  Soon our gathering grew from two to seven with the arrival of his wife, sister and others.  We took in the view from his hillside shack, talked and sampled the fruit from the trees.  I was tempted to linger till sunset but thought better of driving in the dark and took my leave in the late afternoon, saddlebags stuffed to overflowing with fruit.

I arrived home to children playing volleyball in the driveway and my wife fashioning paper bags over her favorite mangos, to keep them bug free as they ripened on the tree.  Cookie and I enjoyed our own private, pond-side sunset and marveled at the fish as they competed for every fistful of pellets scattered upon the water’s surface.

Did I accomplish anything on the day?  Was I productive?  Did I earn my daily bread?  Will anyone but me, be moved by or remember these simple pleasures?  I think not.  Ask me, however, if it was a good day and you will see a smile creep into the corners of my mouth and a far off look in my eyes as I say nothing, merely nodding in silent affirmation.

Restaurant Tip: Lakeside

Blog post was from 2009 - this restaurant no longer exists, sorry!

Yesterday we decided to try and find another new place to eat in Phuket. We used to live in the same street as Nueng about 6 years ago. She was running a restaurant called "Chili" a few years back, but now has a place called "Lakeside" - it's on the road between the Heroine's Monument and Bang Pae Waterfall in the north of Phuket, an area which seems like a different world compared to the main tourist beaches. Nueng says she gets very few tourists at her restaurant... not a big surprise - it's quite a drive from Patong or Karon beach, but if you want very very good local food, and a sample of the "real" Phuket away from the sun loungers, tailors and fast food joints, well, I can now 100% recommend the Lakeside restaurant.

It's a little more than 2km from the Heroine's monument along the road to Bang Pae, there are a couple of small signs to the left. Don't drive too fast or you'll miss it. The Lakeside restaurant is down a small side track. It looks like nothing fancy, but ...

Lakeside restaurant entrance

Lakeside restaurant from the entrance

You sit over the water. Chairs and tables are made of heavy wood. Do ask for Nueng ("Noong") and tell her Jamie recommended her place! Even though she is an old friend, I would not be raving unless the food was good. It is. The food is very good. While we waited for lunch, I took a few photos. The environment is very quiet, you can also do some fishing at the lake.

Lakeside Restaurant

And then the food arrived. We ordered a good selection including a duck curry, pad gaprao with beef, tofu in tamarind sauce, phad thai..... it was all delicious. My first bite of the tofu was a taste sensation :) We found with her last restaurant that Nueng certainly knows how to cook some special food.

Duck curry

Tofu in Tamarind sauce

The bill surprised me too. For 4 people, ordering 5 main dishes plus drinks, less than 500 Baht. We will be back soon.... I do realise that the restaurants recommended on this blog are often a little off the beaten track, but... sometimes you should take the road less traveled. See a bit more of Phuket. And anyway - this is my Phuket! We generally don't eat near the main beaches - the whole idea of this blog was to show something of the Phuket that exists away from the rows of beach chairs. Hope you can find it!

Two Nights, Two Dinners

Since I'd been itching for another excuse to use the sourdough starter that my pal Stephanie gave me, I just had to make Vegan Yum Yum's Rustic Bread and Eggplant Lasagna on Wednesday night:

She substitutes slices of sourdough bread for noodles. Those bread slices (mine was whole wheat sourdough) are layered with roasted eggplant, tomato sauce, and though the recipe did not call for it, I had to throw in some mozzerella Teese. Check out Vegan Yum Yum's recipe here.

Check out my awful plating!

First, I made the bread using the starter, but something went wrong on the second rise and it stayed flat as a board in my loaf pan. Since I knew it didn't really matter how dense the bread was for this (you are covering it in sauce so a sturdy, dense bread is actually perfect), I baked it anyway.

This dish is unbelievably good, as to be expected from the awesome Vegan Yum Yum. If you make it, use a sourdough loaf . The sour taste is a perfect complement to the smoky eggplant and garlicky tomato sauce.

On Thursday night, I took a cue from Skinny Bitch In the Kitch with this Spaghetti Squash with Braised Greens, Raisins, and Pine Nuts:

The greens are local rainbow chard from Dodson Farms, but the recipe is versatile. You can use kale, collards, whatever. This is so tasty and it felt like a really healthy week night meal. The greens are braised with chipotle pepper and garlic and served atop strands of baked spaghetti squash with pine nuts and plump raisins. I ate this with a slice of soy-buttered Ezekial bread because spaghetti squash tastes best when eaten with bites of buttery toast.

Hey tester friends! A new recipe is posted on the Cookin' Crunk tester site....

Holy Shitake!

I was lurking on the PPK forums a few nights ago when I stumbled upon a mention of Shitake Bacon. I'd heard about the wonders of both eggplant bacon and mushroom bacon before, but I'd never tried either. This morning, I finally sampled the wonders of Shitake Bacon:

Yum, yum, yum. That's what I have to say about it. Though the texture (and size) is a little different from soy bacon substitutes, the shitake bacon tastes as good (or maybe even better) than Smart Bacon or other subs I've tried.

As for a recipe, I stupidly didn't write or print the recipe I saw on the PPK and a search later yielded no results. But a quick Google search brought me to this YouTube video of someone named Jenny demonstrating her shitake bacon recipe. You outta watch it, but since I changed things up a bit (namely the cooking time), I'll share what I did.

Shitake Bacon

1/2 pound shitake mushrooms (stems removed, caps sliced)
Enough soy sauce to coat
A couple drops of Liquid Smoke
A splash of olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle soy sauce over mushrooms in a mixing bowl. You don't want to drown them in it, just make sure they all get coated. Add Liquid Smoke (a little dab will do ya) and olive oil. Stir and allow to marinate for about 10 minutes. The mushrooms should absorb all the liquid. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until most are crispy. Note: The original recipe said to bake for 10 minutes, but mine weren't crispy at all after ten. So you might wanna check them often.

Viola! Now you have some awesome bacon for breakfast, to sprinkle over salads, or to top soups. I served mine with a quick Tofu & Hash Brown Scramble:

My Favorite Cookies From the Sixth Grade

When I was little, my best friend Amy's mom made the best after school treats with cornflakes and peanut butter. I was kinda chubby back then, and I'd pop two or three at a time. I didn't really even care for sweets then, but I made an exception for these chewy cornflake (and sometimes she used Cheerios) cookies. I was recently reminded of them when I saw something similar for sale at a backwoods gas station in Middle Tennessee.

Amy has since moved off to Washington (I think that's where she is now...she moves all the time because her husband is in the Navy). But we still talk on Facebook, so I asked for her mom's recipe to include in my cookbook. I made a few changes and came up with these Chewy Peanut Butter Cornflake Balls:

The original recipe called for corn syrup, but Skinny Bitch has turned me off corn syrup of any kind! So I subbed maple syrup. I also had to add extra peanut butter to make the cornflakes stick together. Next time, I'm going to use less cornflakes since this batch was a little crumbly. I promise to share the recipe when I perfect it. But for now, just know that these are awesome if you're into chewy stuff that tastes like a vat of sugary peanut butter.

Restaurant Tip: Batik Seafood - Nai Yang Beach

Update 2014 - with the "big beach clean up" by the local authorities and army .. a lot of Nai Yang restaurants were torn down as they were officially built on national park land ... this was one of them. I need to explore Nai Yang again sometime to update properly. I think this one has been knocked down. Shame.

My parents have been visiting, and last weekend we took a trip up to Nai Yang Beach where I had been recommended a restaurant. On the way we stopped off at the Thalang National Museum, which is worth a quick visit if you are heading to the north of the island. At Nai Yang Beach I went to look for a guy who was running a Kite Surfing shop on the beach - he'd recommended a restaurant called Octopus.. but it was closed, and he was not in the kitesurf shop, so we wandered along the narrow road checking for other dining options.

Nai Yang is very quiet, there are fishermen coming and going - we watched a bucketload of squid being sorted out and we watched longtail boats coming in. Other fishermen (and women) waded out into the shallow water with fishing rods.

Longtail boat at Nai Yang Beach

The traditional feel of Nai Yang is matched by the low key restaurants on the beach. Part of the beach is a National Park, so building is limited. We chose the very last restaurant along the dirt road, just before the treeline. It looked simple, the staff smiled, it was right on the beach and they had little shaded pagodas to sit in out of the midday sun. Reading this blog, you may see that I like small unpretentious restaurants, especially if they are on the beach and don't rip you off. So, I am happy to recommend Batik Seafood and I am sure we will go again.

Batik Seafood Sign

Batik Seafood, Nai Yang Beach

I felt relaxed as soon as we sat down. The kids could play in the sand near our table, we could sit in the shade. The food prices looked reasonable - we ordered a bunch of different dishes which were all around 90 Baht. The kids ate chicken with garlic on rice, one of their favourites - must have been good as they both polished off the whole plate. I was pleased to note that, although the Thai food was a little more expensive than some other places we like, the drink prices were very reasonable - a bottle of beer for 40 Baht in a beachside restaurant - a bargain! The food was all very tasty - green curry, beef and garlic, chicken satay. And the staff were friendly - the owner came to check that we were all fine - that's the kind of thing that makes me want to return to a restaurant, if the owner is friendly and involved in running the place. I like the personal atmosphere of a small restaurant like this one.

Green curry

Beef and garlic

After eating, we all played on the beach for a while, drawing pictures in the sand, looking for shells and hermit crabs. If you think Phuket is crowded and over touristy, well, do read more of this blog. Nai Yang Beach is a million miles from Patong. It's all Phuket. If you want it quiet, Nai Yang and other beaches in the north of the island are for you. Having found another friendly beachfront restaurant, we will be back at Batik Seafood soon for sure!

My kids and their Grandad on Nai Yang Beach

Kids jumping the huge waves at Nai Yang Beach :)