Simple Is Better

Gourmet dishes are impressive and all, but I typically prefer a simple preparation when it comes to showcasing fresh veggies. I picked up some gorgeous broccoli at the farmer's market last week and I finally got a chance to show it off in this dish of Broccoli and Black Beans with Garlic over Brown Rice:

The recipe came from 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Gelles, but it's really so simple that I didn't need one. I was just thumbing through cookbooks for some new ideas on what to do with broccoli when I came across that recipe. It's basically sauteed broccoli, black beans, garlic, and vegetable broth. That's it. Once on my plate, I seasoned the dish with a little ponzu (citrus-flavored soy sauce).

I also picked up some fresh local lettuce that came with a few nasturtiums (edible flowers) for garnish:

I'd never eaten a flower before (unless you count a stuffed squash blossom), so this was a new experience. Honestly, the taste blended right in with the lettuce. I couldn't even tell I was eating a flower! And it made my salad really pretty.

The Human Condition ...

There lurks in the heart of every man, remnants of that savage untamed beast that begat us in the dark long forgotten past.  Deep in the intertwining double helix strands of our DNA, remain the primal drives and instincts that allowed us to not only survive but to search out, conquer and destroy all that lay before us.  Much of humanity continues to rely heavily on our primitive past to navigate and survive the ravages of our still savage planet.

For the modern man, living in a civilized world, there is a need to distance ones self from, and silence, those dark inner voices.  To use our inner beast to justify our savagery and disregard for others, is to deny our humanity and remain primitive and unrefined.  “I can’t help it, that is just the way I am” is a sad and demeaning plea that suggests the lack of choice or self-determination.  Our cerebral cortex and its executive functions were not evolved simply for show, to remain idle and unused.  Our feelings are perhaps beyond our control, as chemicals course through our veins.  Our actions are, however, within the realm of our control and I might argue necessarily placed under that control.  Choice is not limited to fight or flight as some might suggest. 

Control and self determination seems to have been an early theme in my life.  Stories of how I stubbornly took the clothes laid out upon the bed and returned them to the closet, only to make my own choice.  At least that is the way my mother told it.  I remember high school as a time when many were experimenting with hallucinogens of varying sorts.  In my time spent as a volunteer in drug clinics, encounter groups were all the rage as a means of therapy.  Those with greater dependencies often entered a rehab program led by Vinny, Izzy and Jerard.  They were characters right out of the Godfather and ex-addicts from back East.  Encounter groups were quite confrontational and I doubt anyone escaped without being brought to tears at some point, myself included.  The point being that Vinny and others spent many an hour in those groups trying to dissect the whys and hows of my unwillingness to take drugs and others seeming inability to stop.  In groups and outside I was prodded and tested.

I remember a night spent camping on a small island just off the beach in Lanikai.  My friend and neighbor was moving soon to another state and pleaded with me to indulge on that night.  It seemed important to him that I give in and somehow validate his own dependencies, one might guess.  Assuring me that no one would ever know, seemed to imply that he thought I was merely afraid of getting caught.  We talked of many things that night, as sleep was not forthcoming, and in the end he did not get his wish.  Even more than the taunting of my friend, I was tormented by the soulful moans of the seabirds nesting so near and the sand crabs scampering over my blanket, in complete disregard for my presence or piece of mind.

At school events during my youth where others screamed and chanted, I watched detached and with amazement.  In Bangkok on the few occasions where I was obliged to visit Lumpini Stadium, my focus was not on the squared circle and its performers but on the wild-eyed punters, thankfully restrained behind chicken wire, and so in touch with their inner animal.

In my youth, I was unable to adequately articulate why I did not follow the crowd and do as those around me did.  Over time I gained insights and understanding of my condition.  I find myself unwilling or unable to relinquish control to anyone or anything.  Be it group behavior, mind altering substances, charismatic individuals, or even governmental or religious institutions.  That is perhaps one reason I would not make a good soldier, religious follower, or group member of any sort, for that matter.  Even being a leader is out, as one must renounce some control over self to accept control over others.  One of my earliest schoolyard memories is of spurning the requests of those who saw me as their leader.  I had my own interests and they did not include the time consuming constraints of needy followers.

To maintain control one must, in the very least, be free of self imposed restrictions.  Debt, obligation, dependencies are choices in themselves that limit our control and scope of future choices and direction.  Some say they have no choice but I say we all have choices.  The problem being that we may not like what choices we have limited ourselves to.  Though I am not in the Ophra camp, of believing all 6.5 billion of us have some special and unique purpose on the earth.  I do, however, believe that through our choices we can either take control of our lives or relinquish it to others.  We can be proactive or reactive.  But then again what do I know?

Swell Quinoa

When I received my cute little copy of Swell, a vegan cookzine by Swell Vegan, a couple weeks ago, I knew after one glance-through what I'd make first — Coconut Red Bean Quinoa:

Oh yea, this is where it's at. All the couscous-like, protein-filled awesomeness of quinoa combined with luscious coconut milk, kidney beans, and fresh cilantro from my herb garden. It was a magical combination, and I give Swell Vegan five gold stars for this one. If ya'll don't have this zine yet, rush over there and order a copy. It's also filled with 14 other recipes that I can't wait to get around to — like Lemon Zucchini Bread!

Plus, it's super cute! The zine is quarter-page size with a gold emprint designed by Swell Vegan herself. I stole this picture from her website, but hopefully she won't mind.

Though I could have easily doubled the portion on my plate and made this quinoa a one-dish meal, I stuck to the recommended serving size and threw in a few veggie sides for good measure — Sauteed Garlicky Kale and Steamed Sweet Potatoes:

Raw Food Makeup Day!

I usually always do my one-day raw food cleanse on the first Tuesday of each month, but this month, it got pushed back due to my hectic schedule. Yesterday was the makeup day, and believe it or not, I was actually kind of craving raw foods. I guess my body is used to its monthly detox.

Breakfast was Coconut Pancakes with Blackberry-licious Syrup from Ani's Raw Food Kitchen:

These are pretty much just flattened mounds of flax meal held together with some agave and coconut oil. They didn't really taste like coconut since my Spectrum brand oil doesn't have a coconut flavor, and though I love the taste of flax, these were a little too flax-y. I cut the recipe into fourths and still managed to use 3/4 cup of flax to make these two little cakes. The syrup, however, was awesome — made with frozen blackberries leftover from last summer.

Lunch was Big Ole' Salad with Dill-icious Dressing from One Week Raw:

The lettuce came from the farmer's market, and the dressing was loaded with fresh dill and creamy avocado. The dressing recipe came from a free raw cookzine that you can download here. I downloaded it from Pixiepine Palace awhile back, but this is the first thing I've made from it.

My snack was probably the highlight of this month's raw day — Crudites with Cheddar Cheeze Spread:

This spread also came from One Week Raw, and oh my god, it's delightful! The cheeze is made from cashews, nooch, tahini, rolled oats, and all kinds of other goodness. I could eat this straight from the jar with a spoon (and I actually did just that)!

Dinner was Pizza with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Black Olives, and Fresh Italian Herbs from Ani's Raw Food Kitchen:

For the "crust," I used some of Ani's sunflower bread that I had leftover from last month's raw burgers. It's topped with a sun-dried tomato marinara, Italian herb macadamia nut cheese, veggies, and fresh basil. I know regular black olives aren't raw, and I'm sure Ani intended on people using the special raw kind, but I don't even know where to get those ... so I used regular ones. This was a really tasty, satisfying mostly raw meal.

Finally dessert was Fresh Mango Cobbler from Ani's Raw Food Kitchen:

It has a pecan-based crust, topped with fresh mango and a creamy vanilla syrup that I couldn't stop licking off my spoon. Of course, the best part about raw desserts is that they're actually healthy!

Goodies! ... and a Stir-fry

Over a month ago, Mihl of Seitan Is My Motor announced on her blog that I'd won a care package of German vegan booty! And since it had to travel halfway around the world to get to Memphis, I had to be patient. But my long waiting spell was over yesterday when a box of awesomeness arrived at my office. Check it:

Left to right: Marzipan eggs, Grunkern (smoked spelt), Spelt hazelnut biscuits, vegan gummy bears, sourdough extract, sesame brittle, Ricola sea buckthorn candy, semi-sweet chocolate with nut truffle, a multi-fruit bar, and a fruit & nut bar.

Since I prefer to savor things slowly (and since today is raw food make-up day ... more on that in tomorrow's post), I've only opened one thing — the chocolate bar, of course. And wow, is it divine! Thanks so much Mihl! I'm sure I'll be breaking open a few more items when my raw day is over tomorrow!

In other goodie package news, my mom and dad bought me a Mother's Day gift (because I'm the mama of 7 fur babies!). I didn't get a picture, but it included a cute peace sign shirt, a biscuit cutter set, three kinds of Teese, Eco-planet cheddar cheeze crackers, Haribo vegan cola gummies, Stonewall's Jerquee, and SoyGo creamer packets! Thanks mom and dad!

Last night, I threw together this awesome Mock Duck Stir-fry for dinner:

Someone left a can of vegetarian mock duck (made from wheat gluten) at my house after the sushi party. So sauteed some with broccoli, baby bella mushrooms, and garlic. And then, in a stroke of delicious inspiration, I thawed the leftover broth that I'd saved the last time I made the Vietnamese Sandwich from Veganomicon, thickened it with a little cornstarch, and used it as a spicy glaze. Served over udon noodles and garnished with sriracha — perfecto!

Phuket Gateway

I do believe the "Phuket Gateway" to be Phuket's least visited attraction. We stopped for a look on the way back into Phuket a couple of weeks ago and were the only visitors save for 1 other foreign guy. My parents stopped in yesterday and were the only visitors. My daughter has been there on a school field trip. Now, I am not suggesting you should get off the beach and drive right up to the north end of Phuket island, which can take an hour from the south, just to see this monument, but if you are passing, coming over the bridge from Phang Nga, it's worth a stop, you might even learn something about Phuket!

Entrance to Phuket Gateway

The Phuket Gateway was completed in 2007 on the occasion of King Bhumibol's 80th birthday. The idea was to create a dramatic and interesting sculpture to welcome tourists who arrive on Phuket by road. Only trouble is, not many people visit - most tourists arrive by air, and since the airport is south of the monument hardly anyone sees it. You might pass by on a tour to Phang Nga, but the tour bus will not be stopping there. Shame, because it really is a nice place to stop for a look.

The main feature is a series of 29 pillars. The number 29 is not an accident - the numbers represent the two heroines in the war with Burma in 1785, Thao Thep Krasattri and Thao Sri Sunthon and the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Phuket Gateway

Phuket Gateway Monument

Each pillar includes an engraved plaque, such as the one below, each one telling a little of the history and local culture of Phuket. See - you can learn things here! There's also a small tourist information center in one of the buildings behind the monument, as well as a little shop and a very small art gallery.

Engraving on pillar at Phuket Gateway

There are gardens around the monument, a nice spot for a picnic or a drink in the shade if you are exploring the north of Phuket. Also, you find a huge turtle shell surrounded by eggs. Turtles do come ashore in the north of Phuket to lay eggs. We attended a turtle release ceremony on Songkran day 2007 at nearby Mai Khao Beach.

Phuket Gateway

Sculpture of turtle shell and eggs at Phuket Gateway

The Phuket Gateway is certainly well intentioned, and is well cared for, but there seem to be more staff than visitors! The local community is aware of the lack of visitors and last September there was meant to be some kind of choice made by the locals in that area of Phuket - what to do with the Gateway? Well, so far nothing has changed - it's still a nice monument and worth a stop if you are passing.

Prodigious Vegan Sushi-palooza Madness Extravaganza

Yep, that's what we named the sushi party at my house on Friday night. A few of my vegan friends and I got together to roll veggie-filled sushi and, um, deep fry everything in sight (more on that in a second).

For starters, Stephanie of Poopie Bitch made some bad ass Red Thai Coconut Bubble Tea:

She cooked the tapioca herself and served it with red Thai tea and cream of coconut. Then we munched on Steph's Inari while we worked on rolling. I love sushi and all, but inari (tofu skin stuffed with sushi rice) is my very favorite thing:

Here I am workin' on my sushi master skills. I'm not the world's best roller, but I try:

We made Spicy Tempeh Rolls from the PPK and some super-delicious Baked Tofu Rolls. I think we also made a few plain ole' veggie rolls, but honestly, we made a crap ton so who knows what all went in. Here's one finished plate (we filled lots of plates!):

Nic threw together a veggie-loaded salad with romaine, avocado, hicama, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, cucumber, and walnuts:

However, our greatest discovery of the night was my deep fryer. Stephanie got the bright idea that we should try our hand at deep-frying. First, we battered some tofu in panko and lowered it into the hot oil. Deeelicious:

Then Stephanie tried coating some veggies in tempura batter. I don't have pictures, but the battered cauliflower and zucchini were amazing. Of we HAD to try deep-frying some sushi! A few of the sushi joints in Memphis serve deep-fried rolls, but they always contain meat. So Steph battered a few rolls in tempura and here's the result:

Wow! This was so tasty. It's definitely true that everything tastes better fried. After this success, Stephanie said, "Hey guys, I wonder what deep-fried avocado tastes like?" Um, despite our reservations, she battered a few small chunks in tempura and did it anyway. And though I don't have pictures, I have to admit it was pretty tasty. Almost like a fried egg, but not.

After all our experimenting in the kitchen, everyone was ready to dig in. But they took some time out to throw a few gang signs before making their plates:

Left to right: Nic, Weezy, Stephanie, and Greg (my friend Hart and Steph's husband Richard were also there, but somehow didn't make it into the picture).

Struggling with Commitment ...

The time of year.  The time of life.  Call it what you will, many of our friends far and near, seem to be suffering from relationship issues.  Commitment can prove difficult even under the best of circumstances but Thailand can make it difficult to the extreme.

This line of thought continued on down the page for quite some time before I hit the delete key.  Regardless of how right you are, I figure people just don’t want to hear it.  One listens to the pain of course but realistically what else can one do, but listen? 

Other than worrying about friends, life has been busy despite the oppressive heat.  We had our first heavy rain the other day with the subsequent swarms of flying insects.  The first night the lights were blackened by the infestation.  While birds, bats, fish and lizards feasted with gluttonous abandon they left hardly a dent in the carpet of bodies and wings scattered and still wriggling upon the ground in the morning light.  Humans were left out of the hunt until the following night when the Maeng Mun made their first appearance of the season.  Surely the next good rain will bring more swarming goodies to be fried up for the evening meal.

The social agenda has included more weddings, funerals, housewarmings, floats and rockets.  We made yet another quick trip to see a friend in Chiang Mai, coming back with more pots, and turned a ninety day reporting run to the boarder, into an all-day sightseeing and shopping trip, with the sister, niece and cousin in tow.  Having found Chiang Saen Lake on a previous motorbike ride, I fancied sharing the location with my wife and she with her family.  Arriving at the lovely lakeside venue, just in time for an early lunch for the others and a late breakfast for me, we were entertained by the owner of the hotel and restaurant.  Her farang husband being out of town, I missed a chance at a little expat conversation but my wife and I were impressed with his missus.  We traveled the back roads to get there, enjoying the less trodden path, though I must admit the narrow lanes were better suited for the bike than for the truck.  We added maybe twenty kilometers and a fair bit of time with our circuitous route to Mae Sai but the timing was perfect.

Pulling up to immigration just as the lunch hour came to an end, meant that I was in and out in short order, with my troop of followers hardly noticing I had been gone.  Not everyone wanted to stop off and see monkeys and fish, as we had planned on our return, so we went shopping at Makro instead to prepare for the evening feast.  By way of negotiation the niece was promised a visit to the local zoo and the others an elephant ride with a side trip to the seventy meter tall Khun Korn Waterfall, at a later date.  With cleaner skies from the recent rain, mountain tops are again visible and there is more to see from the roads but with the temperature in the high thirties I am not looking forward to long sweaty periods on an elephant or in the jungle. 

What can I say, however, as I am committed to making my lovely wife happy.  We are both more concerned with what we can give than what we can get in return.  Perhaps that sums up our idea of commitment.  Doing what we can to make our partner, lover and best friend happy.  Of course it only really works if both parties are playing the same game.  Commitment to the happiness of others with the subsequent benefit of our own sense of happiness, well being and contentment.  Could it really be that easy?

Veggie Thing!

No food pictures tonight, but I do want to urge ya'll to check out the just-launched awesome veggie restaurant food porn picture site, Veggie Thing Lookbook:

I took a screenshot so ya'll could get an idea of what it looks like, but if you haven't already, you must follow the link and explore the whole thing for yourself.

Here's how it works: The kind folks at CitySearch asked a handful of vegan food bloggers (many names you'll probably recognize) and some non-blogging vegans to submit pictures each month of dishes served in restaurants.

The result is a mouth-watering website with always-changing pictures of oh-my-god-get-in-my-mouth eats! Stop by the site and check out my first submission, the world's best Hummus and Falafel Wrap from Pita Wraps in Memphis. And check out everybody else's great food finds. You can even leave comments and rate dishes based on what you like.

In other news, the rawsome Gena over at Choosing Raw is giving away a super-spiffy spiral slicer for all your raw pasta needs. Check it out (I think the deadline is, like, really soon! But I just found out today).

Note to testers: There's a new recipe — for Sorghum Molasses French Toast — on my tester blog.

Mmm....tofu!

A few weeks ago, my friend Stephanie of Poopie Bitch posted a recipe for some scrumptious-lookin' Tamarind Orange Glazed Tofu on her blog. I'd never had tamarind before, but I was curious and I'd been craving some glazed, fried tofu. I finally picked up some tamarind paste at the Asian/Mexican market, so tonight's dinner was Steph's tasty tofu dish:

So, so good ya'll. The tamarind has a taste that I can't even explain, but it perfectly complements the orange and maple flavors in the glaze. Make it. It's good. And easy!

On the side, I created this Caramelized Brussel Pecan Saute for my cookbook:

I'd always roasted my brussel sprouts before, but I'd been dreaming up this sauteed version (with toasty pecans) for some time. My inspiration was a success. These little baby cabbages got all sweet and caramelized in the saute pan, and the crunchy pecans were an awesome addition.

Phuket Halal Expo

Many visitors to Phuket probably don't realise that over a quarter of Phuket's population is Muslim. I think there is an assumption that everyone is Buddhist, so I can imagine tourists being surprised by the large number of mosques dotted around the island - you'll pass several between the airport and the southern beaches. There are some huge mosques, the largest being at Cherng Talay, near Bang Tao and Surin Beaches. YOu can read more on the blog - see Mosques in Phuket. Officially, Thailand is a Buddhist country, but many parts of the south have large Muslim populations. There has been violence for many years in the 3 provinces bordering Malaysia, but in Phuket I am happy to say that everyone lives together happily regardless of religion. I have a favourite street in old Phuket Town where you can find a Chinese shrine, a mosque and a Catholic church more or less right next to each other. A couple of our favourite restaurants are Muslim owned, serve no pork dishes and one of them has a big sign outside saying "no alcohol". One also assumes the food is halal.

Halal food is that which is permitted by Islamic law, and in particular with regards to meat, the animals must have been killed in the correct way. In a broader sense the word Halal also extends to permissible behaviour, clothing and manners. Not something that non Muslims normally think about... and if you do think about it, you might wonder if Halal food is permitted for non Muslims, or if it might be a bit "strange"... The Phuket Halal Expo was the place to find out.

Stall at the Phuket Halal Expo

Clothes for sale at the Phuket Halal Expo

The Halal Expo 2009 ran from April 30th - May 3rd at Sapan Hin, a large public recreation area in the south of Phuket town where festivals and concerts are often held. There was also a Halal conference at the Hilton resort at Karon Beach. The idea is to make Phuket a regional hub for Halal food and business. We went to Sapan Hin on May 2nd to look around all the stalls selling arts and crafts, food, drinks, clothing and more. Live music was planned for later in the evening, though we mainly went to sample the food!

Walking around with my daughter, she spied some lovely little decorative fish.. Check the photo below - believe it or not, made from a plastic drinking yoghurt pot. Not sure what it had to do with Halal, except it was a Muslim lady making the fish!

Fish made from a yoghurt pot!

We then stopped at a stall selling pineapple biscuits, made in Malaysia - of course Thailand's neighbour is a largely Muslim country and there were several stalls here from Malaysia. There are close ties with Phuket and we get a lot of Malaysian tourists here. So, to help trade between Phuket and Malaysia we bought some biscuits :)

Malaysian biscuits for sale at the Phuket Halal Expo

Around some of the stalls were old style traditional woven huts, I suppose some kind of "how we used to live" display.

Olde Style Hut

After a look around the stalls, we headed to the tastier section of the exhibition - the food! There must have been a hundred different food stalls and there was plenty of open air seating and lots of people. I found the stallholders very friendly, happy to have a camera pointed their way. This guy is selling Pa Tong Ko, one of my favourite snacks...

Pa Tong Ko for sale at the Phuket Halal Expo

Outdoor food court at the Phuket Halal Expo

And this little girl, being told to smile by her mum. They are selling Phad Thai...

Muslim Smile

And here's some delicious grilled chicken.. seriously you can't consider a KFC compared to this!

Grilling chicken at the Phuket Halal Expo

The food court after dark

I was very happy snacking away - an event like this is simply the best way to sample local food. We sat down for quite a while as it got dark and munched through chicken, fresh spring rolls, noodles.. no need for a big dinner after all that. The event had a very happy atmosphere, a great advert for Phuket's Muslim community. Smiles everywhere...

Smiling ladies at the Phuket Halal Expo

Now, after all that food... need a drink. No beer obviously... How about some ice cold Mecca Cola? Yes, you heard it. Mecca Cola is being made in Phuket. I have not seen it in any big stores yet, they are just starting with the marketing, so I was told. Anyway, I can vouch for it - dare I say better than Coca Cola?

Mecca Cola!

On the way out I was offered sampled of a halal soya milk. Another very friendly guy, and check out his cool dude kid in the shades. Soya milk is very common in Thailand, I often drink some in the morning.

Soya Milk for sale

Another guy was making fresh tea, throw the leaves in a strainer, pour through hot water, add milk, bingo. He was quite a character. I normally don't impose too much on people and take portraits, but I like this picture. And the tea was good too.

Muslim man at the Phuket Halal Expo

There is in fact another Halal festival in Phuket called "Halal Food, Hilal Town" which is normally in July - I don't see confirmed dates for this year yet. These kinds of events really show local colour and if you like to discover local food, "mingle with the people" and find the real Phuket, you have to get off the beach and look out for little festivals like this.

Related Posts on Jamie's Phuket

Mosques in Phuket
Abduls Roti shop in Phuket Town
Bang Rong Floating Restaurant
Koh Yao Noi Island

Cinco de Mayo Eats

Today was supposed to be Raw Food Tuesday, my once-a-month raw food cleanse. But I spent all three weekend days at the Beale Street Music Festival (where I saw Fall Out Boy, Snoop Dogg, and Rise Against!), and that meant no time for shopping at Whole Foods. For raw days, I usually have to buy bulk raw nuts at WF, and that's a good 20-minute drive from my house.

I did, however, get a chance to stop by the downtown farmers market on Saturday morning before heading to the festival. I picked up some delicious-looking rainbow chard and some rustic sweet potatoes from my pals at Dodson Farms ... and those items were just what I needed to make Show Me Vegan's Sweet Potato, Chard, and Mushroom Vegan Quesadillas:

For some reason, I can't get enough of Lisa's quesadillas. Every time she posts a quesadilla recipe, I have to make it. These were so amazing! They're stuffed with mashed sweet taters, sauteed baby bella mushrooms and chard, kidney beans, chipotle, and Mexican spices. The recipe is here.

I'll squeeze a raw food day in soon, I promise. But I don't regret skipping out on it today. These quesadillas were so worth it and super-healthy with all those veggies stuffed inside.