Happy Halloween!!!

Halloween is my favorite holiday ... well, except for my birthday and maybe Christmas (because I get ... I mean, um, give presents). Nonetheless, it's a holiday that simply cannot pass by without some pumpkin-y skull-and-spider-themed dessert.

I'd planned to test a new recipe for my cookbook, a Vanilla-Spice cupcake with Pumpkin Mousse. But the mousse was a total fail. The cupcakes, however, turned out alright. I couldn't bring plain ole cupcakes to work today though, so I schmeared 'em with a quick chocolate ganache. Here are a couple of my besprinkled (yes, that is a word ... I looked it up) Vanilla-Spice Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache:

They had a bit of a pumpkin-meets-chocolate taste going on, even though the vanilla-spice cupcakes didn't contain any pumpkin. The combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and such lent the vanilla cake that special pumpkin pie flavor. Ganache wouldn't be my favorite choice here, but it was a quick and easy save. After my pumpkin mousse failed, I got all sad and afraid I'd have to just throw the cupcakes away. Who wants an un-frosted cupcake, right? Luckily, ganache always comes to the rescue!

I'm going to try them again soon, but with a pumpkin buttercream instead of the goopy mousse. I'll keep ya'll posted. Until, have a spooktacular Halloween!

Attention testers: My Memphis-style tempeh barbecue sandwich recipe is up on the tester site.

Tofu + Marmite = True Love

While in New Orleans last weekend, I stumbled onto this amazing tub of Cottage Tofu Salad at their gigantuan Whole Foods (theirs puts Memphis' Whole Foods to shame):

I always love, love, loved cottage cheese in my dairy-eatin' days, and I often try to recreate it with crumbled firm tofu, vegan mayo, and a pinch of sugar. But there was something really appealing about buying tofu cottage cheeze already prepared in a convenient little tub. I stashed a tub in our cooler and it made the 7-hour drive home to Memphis with me. Now, hold that thought.

When I arrived home and began unpacking, I opened my pantry door to see this adorable little guy waiting with open arms. Yep, my big ass jar of Champagne Marmite has a crush on me ... it's written all over his sophisticated European label. See ...

My buddy John P from Nashville (of The I-40 Kitchen blog fame) gifted me this huge jar of special edition champagne-flavored Marmite a few months ago. And what's my favorite thing to do with it? Spread it on whole wheat toast with faux cottage cheeze. Only this time, I didn't even have to make the cheeze myself:

Yep, this open-faced sandwich was pure bliss. I've been eating this meal everyday since I returned from my trip. But sadly, I finished that tub of cottage cheeze off at lunch. And our Memphis Whole Foods doesn't carry this stuff. Oh well ... guess I'm back to makin' it myself.

Supreme Vegan

Honestly, I don't really remember what comes on a supreme pizza. I was always a cheese, olive, and bell pepper girl in my pregan days. But I'd like to call last night's creation a Vegan Supreme Pizza, whether it really is or not:

It tasted pretty supreme to me! I piled melty mozzarella Teese (thanks daddy!), Yves pepperoni slices, bell pepper, black olives, and cremini mushrooms atop on a homemade whole wheat crust. Pure comfort food!

The crust — my go-to pizza recipe — comes from Vegan with a Vengeance. I always sub whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose though. And I typically make Isa's basic pizza sauce from VwaV as well. But this time, I realized I forgot to buy tomato sauce. Luckily, I had a half-jar of kalamata olive bruschetta spread in the fridge. It made for a tasty pizza topper in place of traditional tomato sauce.

Vegetarian Festival Procession Photos

Well, the 2009 Phuket Vegetarian festival is now over. As normal, wish I had more time to see all the different events, visit more shrines, but work and family do just about come first! During the week I had no time, but on Saturday and Sunday woke early and headed to the processions. The street processions in Phuket Town happened every day from the 20th to 26th October. I cannot recommend enough that, should you be in Phuket during the festival, you should make the effort to see something... something that you will not have seen before!

I managed a full 9 days on the vegetarian diet, eating food only from the restaurants and stalls selling the "Jae" food, no meat, no dairy, no garlic (it's smelly). Oh, and no alcohol - 9 days without a beer is something of a miracle for me! There are still events that I have not seen, not photographed such as fire walking, and the final night (which was last night) in Phuket Town, where the streets are packed with people and the air is full of firecrackers. The local TV channel was showing live pictures, it looks mad. If going on that last night, ear plugs and a facemask are a must. Taking photos would be hard work - camera would need some protection too. And feet in sandals would maybe get a few little burns. Next year....!

Talking of cameras, my Canon lens screwed up on the very first day of the festival, stopped functioning on wide angle - exactly what I need for festival photos! Oh well, I did manage to get some pretty good pictures anyway. Maybe by next year will have upgraded the camera again.

All the photos below were taken on the 24th and 25th. On the 24th I was at Jui Tui Shrine by about 6:30am and chased the procession around town for a couple of hours. The Jui Tui shrine is I believe the biggest in Phuket, and the crowds were considerable. I hope this big farang did not get in too many peoples way :).. On the 25th I went to Kathu Shrine, also around 6:30, before they all started walking. Some participants were still being pierced. I stayed with the procession through the village, but did not follow all the way to Phuket Town.

For more general information about the vegetarian festival and links to many articles on the blog and photos from previous years see here:

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival - Introduction

The photos below are just a selection - I have (so far) uploaded about 50 to my Flickr account - Phuket Vegetarian Photos - Jamie Monk on Flickr.

Saturday morning - Jui Tui Shrine is just to the west of the market in Phuket Town, in the old town area. The area is crowded all week with foodstalls - we went on Friday night and it was a battle to get along the street! Similar scenes on Saturday morning. I could hardly get inside the shrine, so waited outside the main entrance for the Ma Song to emerge. If you are at all squeamish, look away now. Too late :)

How many swords in his face?

I am not normally squeamish, but...

I believe the guy above is regretting his choice of piercing. How the **** did he get those in there??!

Girls get in on the act too

There were quite a few females this year with piercings but others stuck with smaller items. This was the only girl I saw with something extreme. But the colour matches her dress, how lovely.

Skin piercing - count the needles

Entranced lady dancing along the streets of Phuket Town

There are many ladies like her, dancing along the streets. Many of them really do appear to be entranced.

Ma Song cutting his tongue with a sword

everything except the kitchen sink

The guy cutting his tongue was a favourite of mine. Good ol' fashioned purification by pain! The dude below him seems to be going for some kind of record. How many really sharp things can you stick in your face? Actually I think his record was beaten next day at Kathu :)

Children should keep away from fireworks

I am guessing that he might be in a little pain

Some of the metal rods were rather long

Some of the metal rods through faces were long - hard to move in a crowded space when you have a 2 meter long spike in your face. The piercings come in all shapes and sizes. I saw guns, model boats, a propeller shaft, bathroom fittings....

Entranced Ma Song

Piercing Buddies

That'll do for now - as I say, more photos on my Flickr page.

Sunday morning - Kathu Shrine is only about 1km from my house. We can hear noise from the shrine during the festival. Sunday was their procession day. They actually walk from Kathu to Phuket Town, about 5km. Try that barefoot with a sword in your head! This is why they start early - doing this in the midday sun would be foolish.... Yeh, maybe foolish already, but anyway...

At Kathu, the crowds were much less, still pretty busy, but easier to walk in the temple grounds. The rituals start very early. I was there about 6:30am. I think next year will try for 5:30am. Ma Song were being pierced in the temple grounds. Entranced mediums were exiting the shrine shaking heads and shouting. It's all a bit surreal. Another world.

Getting pierced

In a trance or just in pain?

Well, it is called the Vegetarian Festival

Maybe taking the name Vegetarian Festival too literally? The metal spikes and small knives are more traditional, but in recent years there is a tendency for more elaborate piercing. Bigger or weirder - more likely to get your photo in the paper!

I'm sure you can get a few more in?

More piercing buddies

Groups of friends often seem to do the procession together with similarly bizarre piercings. Would you like to see a close up? I thought not. But it's my blog, so...

Not for the faint hearted

Ah yes, this Kathu dude beats the Jui Tui dude hands down in the sharp-things-in-your-face contest.

The procession walked out through the village, the god statues being carried by groups of young men accompanied by thousands of firecrackers. You have to be right in the middle of it to appreciate the noise, the smoke, the feeling of tradition. This is something the local people believe in, this is no show, no tourist attraction. In Kathu, how many foreigners did I see? Just me and about 5 or 6 others with cameras - some were pro photographers. I would have liked to follow the procession to town, but of course had to go to work :(

Carrying the gods in Kathu village

Procession in Kathu Phuket

Don't think I will ever get tired of the vegetarian festival. Phuket has beaches, nightlife, diving, great scenery, 5 star resorts, but for me it's some of the history and traditions that makes Phuket something a bit special. Might upload some more photos later. Meantime, just a few days until Loy Krathong, which is on Monday 2nd November.

More Vegetarian Festival photos (Flickr)
More information about Festivals in Phuket


Well, I'm back from my family trip to New Orleans. I've got good news and bad news. The good news? I consumed massive amounts of delicious vegan food in the Big Easy. The bad news? I lost one of my camera's memory cards somewhere in New Orleans on my last night there. The card contained not only most of the vacation eats, but every picture I've taken since last Christmas — most of which had not been downloaded. I'm great at downloading food pics, but I'm not so good at keeping up with the important birthday and special event stuff. I'm pretty upset about it, but I guess I've learned to start backing up my photos.

Enough with the bad news though. I changed my memory card out Saturday morning, so I have all of Saturday's eats. And my dad took a few food photos with his camera too. So without further ado, check out these Yuca Veggie Fajitas from Country Flame, a Mexican/Cuban/Spanish restaurant in the French Quarter:

I love this dish! I had the same thing last time I was in NOLA two years ago. It's fried yuca (much like a potato) with peppers, onions, and fresh salsa. I piled the stuff into flour tortillas for a tasty and filling dinner on Thursday night.

On Friday, we stopped into La Divina Gelateria on Magazine Street for icey-cold scoops of sorbotto and gelato. I had the Local Pear Ginger Sorbotto:

I have to thank Kittee from Cakemaker to the Stars for the insider tip on the sorbotto. She sent me an amazing list of New Orleans vegan options that pretty much kept us fed the entire trip. Without Kittee, we wouldn't have known where to start. By the way, I had a great close-up of the sorbotto on that missing memory card. Oh well...

On Saturday, I had an amazing Avocado Pesto Tofu Sandwich at Surrey's Cafe & Juice Bar:

Another Kittee tip! This sandwich was piled high with three of my favorite foods — creamy avocado, spicy pesto, and pan-fried tofu. Served with local Zapp's chips, this was a very satisfying meal. And Surrey's, a quaint hipster joint on Magazine Street, was bursting with local artsy flavor.

We ended our trip with the most carbtastic meal in the world — French Fry Po Boys from Verti Marte Deli on Decatur Street:

This was another item on Kittee's list, and my parents and I couldn't be more grateful for this suggestion. We love carbs, and it doesn't get carbier than fat steak fries piled onto white bread and topped with peppers and mushrooms.

My parents piled theirs with melted cheese too. It's the kind of thing we'd never eat if we weren't on vacation. Thanks to this sandwich, my diet starts today!

Overall, we had a great time (except for that damn memory card situation). We did lots of shopping, eating, and mango daquari-drinking on Bourbon Street. Here's my mom, dad, and me in Jackson Square on our last night there. We got tons of beads from the Halloween Parade!

Black and White ...

The light of day finds last night’s efforts on the cutting room floor, or more correctly, in the cyber equivalent of the editor’s waste bin.  Sounding too much like a shopping-list report for a travel blog and not enough like VF, its demise was swift and brutal.  So this is take two, scene one and I’ll try to get it right this time. 

Immediately upon loading twelve village folk into the truck, it became apparent that additional pressure would be needed in the rear tires.  Yes, I was that guy today.  The one with the overloaded pickup, filled to the brim with human flesh.  I assure you this was not a typical day in the life of Village Farang.  This was me doing social penance for my normally reclusive ways.  My wife is, for the most part, very understanding of my peculiarities and quirks.  As payback I sometimes step out of my comfort zone and play driver or tour guide to young and old alike.

This was an interesting mix of family.  My wife’s family, what’s left of it, and the family of her sister’s present boyfriend with the addition of two other village women.  Children left to their own devices can become quite loud and unruly.  Vastly outnumbered by adults, as in this case of nine to three, they become much more manageable, retreating into a quiet fantasy world of their own creation. 

The four elders, three of whom are smokers, were crammed in the back seat which is normally folded up for Cookie’s comfort.  As with all smokers, their skin, clothes and breath reeked of tobacco.  My normally controlled environment was not only assaulted with unpleasant odors but with some of my least favorite sounds.  There is a coarseness and indelicacy in the villager’s manner of speech, which I find unpleasant.  Although I speak Thai and not Northern, my passive understanding makes it impossible to completely ignore the subject matter as well.

Focusing my attentions as best I could on the task at hand, we proceeded first to the Black Village and later to the White Temple (pictures in a previous post).  With the benefit of hindsight it may have been advisable to deal with the vast crowds and starkness of the White Temple first, before proceeding to the deeper, richer colors and wooded acreage of the Black Village.  Lunch break was a picnic at Chiang Rai Beach, as it is known.  After an obligatory stop at an outdoor market to buy food for dinner we headed for home. 

I mistakenly chose the route leaving from the five-way intersection, thinking it would avoid the heavy Sunday traffic.  We ended up in a very rural traffic jam.  Our lane was completely filled with a herd of beautiful, almost blue-gray water-buffalo, lumbering along oblivious to the chaos they were creating.  As if that were not enough to deal with, the other lane was occupied by large trailers unloading their massive harvesting machines.  It was an interesting juxtaposition of past and present, the natural and the mechanized.  I’m pretty sure from the erratic driving of those around me, that I held a minority view of the interesting nature of our dilemma.  In any event there was nothing for it but to wait for our four legged friends to choose a field to enter, allowing us in our metal boxes, to get back to our mad rush through life.

In the end I survived my ordeal and hopefully will remember to reduce the pressure in my tires to avoid the rear end doing untoward things on our next outing.

Enjoy Black Village

Black Village (Baan Dam) can be found on my Google Map but the images below are of the entrance to the soi and the limited Thai signage.  It is not easy to find so thought this might help.