Garden of Awesome

It's been far too long since I used my beloved Sarah Kramer cookbooks. The Garden of Vegan was actually my first vegan cookbook. I wrote an email to the publishing company requesting a catalog of their books because I'd seen one at work. In the email, I mentioned how excited I was to order The Garden of Vegan. And to my surprise, the whole book was in my mailbox a few weeks later — for free!

I wasn't even vegan then, just vegetarian. But I remember being quite inspired by the healthy recipes. Back then (somewhere around 2002), I was living on Ramen noodles, mac & cheese, and frozen pizzas. Fast forward to 2009. Flipping through my much-neglected, well-worn copy of Garden, I stumbled upon the recipe for Awesome Asian Noodle Salad:

Now, this isn't really the kind of dish that needs a recipe. But I probably wouldn't have thought it up on my own. Thanks to Sarah Kramer, it'll be going in my regular repertoire. I subbed flavored tempeh for the tofu in the recipe ... just because. The noodles are soba, and the mushrooms are baby bella. The sauce is a simple mix of rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, and fresh ginger.

A word on the tempeh: I used those new Lightlife Ginger Teriyaki Tempehtations — pre-cubed, flavored tempeh. It was tasty, but not really worth the $4 I paid for the teensy package (and that was on sale ... regular Whole Foods price was $5!). Next time, I'll marinate some plain tempeh and save a few bucks.

In case you didn't notice the Vegan Mofo banner to the right, I'm participating this year! Yea! It's my first year actually getting around to signing up. For those who don't know, Vegan Mofo stands for Vegan Month of Food. For the third October in a row, hundreds of vegan food bloggers are pledging to post as much as possible throughout the month.

I pledge to post every weekday in October (with the exception of Oct. 23-28 cause I'll be on vacation in New Orleans!). I typically post most weekdays anyway, so I don't think it'll be too much of a challenge. The real challenge will be keeping up with all the other Mofo-ers. For a full list or to sign up, go to Kittee's Cake Maker to the Stars blog.

Restaurant Tip: Mom Tri's Kitchen

Earlier this month I decided to write about Mom Tri's Villa Royale, which is one of the top rated hotels in Phuket, a really nice place to stay. I tend to write hotel recommendations based on their reviews on TripAdvisor or based on talking to customers from our dive shop about their hotels. As a resident of course I don't stay in the hotels here and being that this is an honest blog, I don't take any payment or freebies for writing about hotels either.

But I am glad to know some people in the tourism industry here do read this blog! Sylvie, who was PR manager for Mom Tri's contacted me with a thanks from the management for the blog article.. and would I like to have lunch at Mom Tri's Kitchen one day? Well, sure! I hate to plead poverty, but a place like that is rather out of my normal budget. Lunch for me is normally going to cost about 40-100 Baht, I guessed the menu at the Kitchen would be rather pricier...

Mom Tri's Kitchen is part of the Villa Royale resort overlooking Kata Noi beach. I had a quick hotel tour before lunch. Rooms are "Olde Thai" style, there are several pools, a couple of seaview bars and then the restaurant. Tables are placed next to huge windows overlooking the ocean. It was a windy day on Sunday, the waves were roaring in to the beach, quite a spectacular lunchtime view...

View from Mom Tri's Kitchen

At Mom Tri's Kitchen Restaurant

Menu is extensive - you can browse it on their website. All sounds rather good, doesn't it! The website also has all the prices. I decided not to be TOO greedy, did not order all the most expensive items. Started with a very good salad with Feta cheese and olives... There was also a free bread plate with little dips made from olives and sun dried tomatoes...

Salad at Mom Tri's Kitchen

Snacks at Mom Tri's Kitchen

Naturally there is a big drinks list too, but since this was a working lunch, I skipped on the wine and spirits. Also skipped on the Gazpacho :)

Main course for some reason I felt like a pizza rather than anything too fancy. The pizza with smoked salmon was very tasty, though I think if you want pizza you can find better in Phuket for sure. I maybe should have gone for one of the chef's special recommendations but I do like a pizza.

Oh, and there was dessert too! Wasn't going to ask for it, but dessert menu was presented and the "Giant Profiterole" sounded like something suitable for a fat panda like me. Will need to diet for a few days to lose the 3,000 calories in this profiterole...

Dessert at Mom Tri's Kitchen

Many thanks to Mom Tri's for the lunch and even though nobody asked for a write up, I would say if you have some money to burn, Mom Tri's Kitchen is worth a splurge for the food and views. Or I guess for some people the menu maybe seems quite cheap! Most restaurants on this blog are a bit lower down the food chain :)

Mom Tri's Kitchen - Location Map

View Mom Tri's Kitchen in a larger map

Banana Brulee Oats

The lovely Miss Katie at Chocolate Covered Vegan has discovered the darndest thing! Microwaving a banana creates a big ole pile of creamy, caramelized banana-y goodness. She and other vegan bloggers have been enjoying this find stirred into wholesome oats. Katie's posted a ton of pictures of the variations on her Banana Brulee Oats. But mine was quite simple. I give you Banana Brulee Oats, Elvis-Style:

As a Memphian, I'm obliged to love the King's fave food combo — peanut butter and banana. Lucky for me, that love comes quite naturally. Especially when that peanut butter is White Chocolate Wonderful and the banana is caramelized. I also added some maple syrup to my steel cut oats for extra sweetness.

For the banana trick, simply microwave a broken-up banana with a tablespoon or so of water for about two minutes. It gets all melty and creamy. Plop it atop your oats and dress as desired.

Tortilla Toss-Up

When I bought Vegan Brunch, I remember scanning past the recipe for Scrambled Tortillas and thinking, "That's kinda weird ... but intriguing." I made a mental note to try it out one day. I love me some corn tortillas, and they always come like a million to a package (what's up with that, anyway?). I had some leftover from another recipe last week, so it seemed time to try Isa's Scrambled Tortillas:

Basically, you take torn-up tortillas and fry 'em up with onions and jalepenos. Then you pour blended soft (not silken) tofu over the tortillas and mix it all up. The tofu cooks up and gets browned in places. Then you stir in some steamed potatoes, top it with a homemade Mexican-style tomato sauce, and guacamole. Yum! I also sprinkled mine with nooch, though the recipe doesn't call for it. One word of advice on this recipe: use hella more salt than it calls for! Other than that, it's a keeper. I'll certainly make this again.

On the side, I had some of my Creole Steamed Sausages:

I based this recipe off the famed Julie Hasson steamed sausages, but added my own spice combination for maximum spicy creole goodness. It's definitely going in the cookbook.

Thanks for all your awesome comments on the Dalai Lama post. I don't think I'll ever be able to top that post/moment. I feel totally blessed!

Cookies on Toast (and the Dalai Lama)

Remember the speculoos spread craze from the PPK? A while back, everyone was raving about this spread made from European speculoos cookies. Lotus makes it, and they sell it in jars like peanut butter. But it's not available in Memphis, as far as I can tell. Thankfully, Mihl of Seitan Is My Motor developed her own recipe for making a similar spread at home using Speculoos or Biscoff cookies (or biscuits, as they say in Europe).

Up until a few weeks ago, I didn't think I could find those cookies around here either. But Poopie Bitch sent me an urgent text message alerting me that she'd found Biscoff (the American name for Speculoos biscuits) at both Kroger and Walgreens! I rushed to the nearest Walgreens and bought a pack for $2.50!

Then I came home and whipped up Mihl's Speculoos Spread. I've been enjoying it on whole wheat toast for breakfast everyday this week:

Imagine spreading buttery cookies all over toast. Sounds like heaven, right? This stuff is so amazing. I made a few changes to Mihl's recipe. She calls for one-fourth cup of coconut oil, but I only used 2 tablespoons (along with 4 tablespoons of water). Even though coconut oil is good fat, I couldn't bring myself to use that much since the cookies contain some fat too.

I enjoyed the toast with a couple slices of smoky Tempeh Bacon, a recipe from my cookbook:

Until yesterday, I was certain that speculoos spread was the highlight of my week. But a miraculous thing happened yesterday. The Dalai-freakin'-Lama touched my lip ring! Seriously.

He was in town to accept the International Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Since I work for the alt-weekly (the Memphis Flyer), I was allowed to sit in on a media Q&A with the Dalai Lama before the ceremony. As he was leaving the session, he stopped to shake hands with a few media folks who were reaching out to touch him.

I was sitting at the end of a row. As he started to walk past me, he suddenly stopped and looked at my lip stud. Then he lightly grabbed it, wiggled it, and laughed to himself. Then he walked on. It was so unexpected and really amazing. I feel blessed! Here's a picture of me and the Dalai Lama after he pulled his hand away. You can see how totally giddy I am:

Photo courtesy of Mark Ramirez

Funeral Procession ...

Today marks four weeks since the untimely death of my wife’s younger brother.  The funeral procession, for me, was the only redeeming part of a week filled with drinking, late-night gambling and people taking home a much food as they could carry before everyone else had eaten.  What should have been a reverent and respectful occasion was at times far from that.  As the rest of the village waited at the newly renovated cremation site, nestled in the trees on a small hill I pass on my hikes to the dam, monks, family and friends escorted the body to the site.

Adjusting to Village Life ...

Recently there was a thread on a Thailand forum about the difficulties of adjusting to village life in Thailand.  For some it was not easy but doable.  For others it seems, it was something verging on the impossible.  It struck me that some of those who suffered the most had no chance from the very beginning.  If you start off by scraping the bottom of the social barrel to find a partner and then proceed to try living among the poorest of the poor in a remote rural location...well I think you can start to see where that might lead.  That scenario would hardly be possible for the vast majority of big city Thais, let alone a foreigner.

It would surely take a different sort of “farang animal” to go all “National Geographic” and live a primitive existence devoid of all western amenities, comforts and conveniences.  Throw-in an inability to understand or talk to anyone and things can turn ugly and the bottom of a bottle can seem like the only way out.

Some suffer under the delusion that village life will be super cheap.  While fixed overhead is lower than in the city, startup costs to feather you nest and make life bearable can be a little pricy.  I had lived in Thailand long enough to know in advance what I would need to make the move to a village.  Perhaps not the same for everyone but something that needs to be dealt with honestly and well in advance.

For example, I knew I would need a dwelling much different from the typical village shack and at a reasonable distance from the standard noises, smells and hubbub of village life.  Other necessities included a good truck, motorcycle, mountain-bike, hiking shoes, camera and dogs.  In the house I needed air-conditioning and a bug-free environment.  Telephone, internet, the best computer I could afford, True Vision for western TV/News and some hobbies to exercise the body and the mind.

Keeping in mind that I speak Thai, communication is still less than satisfying with most of the villagers.  They for the most part do not speak Thai, only speaking their local country dialect and many are functionally illiterate.  Privacy, security, alcohol and debt are major problems and you have to have a plan for dealing with them.

If you get everything right it can be quite nice.  I have a Bangkok friend who argues how easy life is for him in the city.  He can catch a taxi to the Sky-train and go to this place for one thing and then to another place for something else.  I laugh and say, “That is not easy.”  Easy is sitting on the sofa, watching a movie you downloaded from the internet, on the big-screen TV, and your lovely wife brings you those very same things without lifting a finger.  Use technology and a couple of villagers to do the grunt work and go on a well planned shopping run once a week and easy-peasy you have time for fun and adventure.

Depending on your needs and where you live, finding companionship other than your wife, can be a struggle at first but over time usually works out.  I find the transient nature of expat relations in Thailand has hardened me to the fact that people come and go in ones life.  Each life-change is merely one more in a long list of changes over the years, that have mostly worked out for the best.  It is not for everyone but village life can be good.

So if you are dreaming of retiring to a village, do your homework.  Spend time there at different times of year.  Learn to speak the language and pray that your partner has your best interests in mind at all times.  If you can’t count on your partner, then all is lost before you begin.  Sometimes you have to spend money to save money, so plan carefully.  Dreaming the dream is one thing but living the dream is a very different animal.

Southern Fried Equinox

Happy Autumn! Today marks the first day of fall, and though I'm sad to see summer go, I'm growing more and more comfortable with the thought of warm hoodies, turning leaves, and pumpkins galore.

Apparently, my body is adjusting to the new season as well — I woke up with a sore throat, stuffy head, and lots of snot (ick!). At first, I was certain I was dying of the swine flu, but my mom reassured me that my lack of a fever was a good sign. I'm feeling a bit better now, but that may just be all the cold medicine.

Despite battling the sickies, I couldn't resist cooking a delicious meal to celebrate the Autumn Equinox (also known as Mabon, the traditional celebration of the second harvest). I whipped up this Southern Fried Tofu with Roasted Beets and Whipped Garlic Taters & Gravy:

The tofu is another recipe from my upcoming cookbook (fyi for those who've asked — there's no date set yet, but I'm aiming for some time in 2010). It's beer-battered and deep-friend, just the way tofu should be.

On the side, I whipped some boiled Yukon Gold potatoes and roasted garlic in the Kitchenaid. Then I topped them with Road's End Organics Golden Gravy.

The locally-grown beets were tossed with a little olive oil, salt, and maple syrup and roasted in a 400 degree oven for about 35 minutes. The perfect heavy meal to welcome autumn and say sayonara to summer.

Vegan Crunk Omni Test

A few weeks ago, my friends Shara and Jesse (both omnis) convinced me to plan and host a vegan dinner party so they could try some meatless eats. At first, I thought about making a menu from The Vegan Table. But I remembered the cardinal rule of dinner parties — never make a dish you haven't tried before. So I decided to go with what I know — my Cookin' Crunk tester recipes!

Here I am, hard at work in the kitchen:

I'm sporting my Christmas apron because my all-purpose cupcake apron was dirty. Here are my guests — Greg (the only vegetarian), Jesse, Shara, and Tyler (the omnis):

On the menu were Dijon-Pecan Seitan Medallions with Maple-Butter Glaze:

Jesse proclaimed that this tasted a lot like chicken. Score! It's always a plus when a non-vegan thinks vegan food tastes like meat.

We also had some of my Granny's Corn Casserole:

That white stuff is Tofutti cream cheese. This is one of my favorite side dishes of all time!

And we had hearty bowls of Country Potato Soup with Whole Wheat Biscuits for dippin':

And Jesse requested these Butterscotch Vanilla Cupcakes with Buttercream and Butterscotch Ganache for dessert:

Most of ya'll have seen these before, in my post from my best friend Sheridan's birthday in August. It's the basic Sexy Low-fat Vanilla Cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World with added butterscotch chips (which negates the low-fat part! oops!). I made the ganache the same way you'd make chocolate ganache, but with butterscotch.

Overall, I think the dinner party was a success. I doubt Shara, Jesse, or Tyler will convert to veganism any time soon, but at least I tried to lure them into our vegan cult (ahahahahaha ... that's my evil laugh).

I Would Do Anything for Love ... But I Won't Do That

My friend Greg and I went to a screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show a couple of weeks ago, and the appearance of Meatloaf as poor Eddie made me crave vegan loaf.

I had the vegan version of the classic retro loaf last Thursday night (yep, I'm a little behind on posting). The recipe for Diner Loaf came from The Healthy Hedonist by way of Amey's Gastronomus Maximus zine:

Oh my gawd, ya'll. This was the best vegan loaf I've ever tried! In the past, I've always made lentil loaves or hippie-like nut loaves. But this one was made with a base of Gimme Lean ground burger (the kind in the tube), tofu, oats, and walnuts. More meaty, for sure.

On the side, I had steamed kale and some local Corn with Garlic-Miso Dressing from Vegan Soul Kitchen:

I've blogged about this corn dressing before, but it's so tasty that I have to mention it again. Bryant Terry's miso-based spread is so much tastier and healthier than soy margarine. I doubt I'll ever butter my corn again when I have this option. This recipe alone is worth buying VSK for if you don't already own it.

Sell-by Date ...

In a recent email exchange with one of my readers, it was indirectly implied that perhaps my blog had reached its sell-by date.  Possibly a quote would be helpful here.

 “I think the problem with blogging is that the source of interesting factual material cannot keep coming at the same pace all the time. I notice that most blogs have a readable life-span of maybe a year or so after which they fade away, (some become so banal, trite and trivial they should be put down).” 

This could explain the prolonged drought that I am presently experiencing with regard to my blog.  I have secretly begun to question if I am arrogant enough to presume that my ramblings can continue on indefinitely or if there is some finite lifespan to what I am doing here.  I steadfastly refuse to become a recycler of other’s news or offerings.  I’m not in the repackaging and rebranding business.  I would rather go to the source and form my own opinions and suggest others do the same.

In truth there has been no shortage of material lately but it has all been far too personal a private to be dragged upon this page.  Revealing myself is one thing, but I do draw the line at being gossipy and overly revealing of others and their life foibles or misfortunes.  So there has been an abundance of dancing neurons in the gray matter but my fingers have been on holiday, as I question the necessity or merit of writing any of this down for the titillation of others.

As for today’s title, it is a favorite of mine and I use it frequently in relation to those who discover Thailand later in life.  Without youth, looks, charm or potential, and as late entries to the game, they are often required to come up with a buy-in fee to step upon the playing field.  Even then most are relegated to playing in the minor leagues and never no the joy of playing in the Big Leagues (The Show) of the majors.  I believe it is this phenomenon, of having passed ones sell-by date, that leads to many a farang’s notion that we are seen only as an ATM for Thai women.  Realistically what else do men in the winter or autumn of their lives have to offer, to those they pursue?  But...that is a discussion for another day.

Today’s question is how much longer can I keep this up and is there any merit in doing so?  I’m afraid I have no answer.

Luang Pu Supha Temple

On a grey and wet morning I awoke early for a visit to a temple which has suddenly become famous. Local news last week reported that the revered Monk, Luang Pu Supha could be the world's oldest living man, having just celebrated his 113th birthday. This has yet to be ratified by Guinness. Luang Pu Supha is a well traveled Monk having visited Laos, Burma, China and Europe. He returned to Phuket in his 60's and dedicated time helping the sea gypsies. The temple he resides at now was named after him by HM Queen Sirikit.

Update 2013 .. Luang Pu Supha died in September this year.

The main temple is still under construction. All activities for now take place in more modern looking buildings. The temple is not far from Wat Chalong, up a side road leading towards the hills. There is talk that this road will one day link up with Patong.. Indeed on a mountain bike or hiking you can follow this road up and over the hill, but it might take a while before the real road actually gets built.

The main hall, where the birthday celebrations had been held just a couple of days earlier, houses a large Buddha statue and the floor is decorated with giant lotus flowers. Given the current fame of the temple, I was not surprised to see a fair number of people there at 8am on a drizzly Saturday morning. In the main hall prayers were being said...

Outside a number of mobile food and drink stalls had arrived. Passing them I headed to the other main building where the Monks were eating. A large table was piled with donations of food. The Monks were all seated as more people arrived with offerings. Just outside the hall, a row of poor people were seated waiting for their chance to eat. In fact anyone can eat the food at a temple, but must wait for the Monks to eat first. Phuket may be a relatively rich province but of course not everyone benefits from the wealth of the land.

I shall go back when the temple is complete. I have read that the decoration inside is quite special. As it was a wet morning and the sky was dark, it was not ideal for taking photos this time. I drove further up the road. The land up here is hardly built on, though there is a safari/elephant trekking company. With the low clouds and drizzle, plus some grazing cattle and the associated "country smells" it felt like England! Along the road, a small side track headed into the hills. The sign (below) attracted my interest, but just then the drizzle turned into a heavy downpour, so I will explore up this little road further sometime soon...

Tofu Omelets, How Do I Love Thee?

Let me count the ways. I've shown many a Vegan Brunch and Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen tofu omelet on this blog before. Hands down, tofu omelets are my favorite breakfast. This week, I've been enjoying the Vegan Brunch omelet stuffed with Follow Your Heart mozzarella cheeze and served with a side of sprouted grain toast with homemade strawberry jam.

Simple, sure. But in days past, I've stuffed the same omelet with spicy sauteed mushrooms and spinach. This omelet, made several months ago, was by far my best effort yet:

Back in March, I had a little less luck with this Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen omelet — stuffed with Teese and mushrooms:

At the time I made this omelet, I was quite proud of it though. After all, it held together — mostly. And it was a vast improvement over my first tofu omelet in May 2008 (also from Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen):

Yep, that one was more like a tofu omelet scramble. But despite its shabby looks, it tasted like gold. When I made that omelet, I lacked a proper non-stick skillet — an essential tool in tofu omelet-makin.'

So far, I've only made these recipes four times. But I assure you this isn't the last time you'll see a folded "eggy" omelet of goodness on this blog.