February 2008 Archives

Mujadara Veggie Burgers



I always make too much mujadara to eat in one sitting but the rice and lentil dish is so delicious that it's never a problem. Tonight I turned some of yesterday's leftovers into patties. I drew on Heidi Swanson's "Ultimate Veggie Burger" for inspiration but mine is really nothing like hers, except for the lemon zest and cilantro.

Leftover hummus would be an ideal addition or could replace the chickpeas and tahini altogether. If you have some, experiment.

I baked up some buns to serve the patties on, using a variation of Seriously Good's Whole Wheat Buns. I omitted the butter and egg, and used water instead of milk, making these somewhat less rich but entirely vegan. The black pepper and garlic added a nice kick to compliment the veggie burgers.

Mujadara Veggie Burgers
makes 8-12 patties

1 can chickpeas, drained
1/4 cup tahini
3 cups mujadara (including the onions)
zest of one lemon
1/2 bunch cliantro leaves and stems, cut fine
4-5 scallions, cut fine
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 dashes ground cumin

Smush up the chickpeas until they are only slightly lumpy (by hand or in a food processor as you choose). Add the other ingredients and use your hands to squish it all together. Form into patties. Fry in a bit of olive oil for 6 minutes on a side, or until the patties are crispy and brown on both sides.

Serve on buns with greens, tomatoes and the sauces of your choice.

Cook's note: Although the flavor is great and the patties moist and tender, their structural integrity is a little bit too soft. I need to figure out a way to make them hold together better. Eggs would do the trick, but I want this to be vegan. Perhaps breadcrumbs or a different cooking method.

Vegan Cherry Cobbler



Last Thanksgiving my sister made us a raw cherry cobbler that was out of this world. Today I saw a jar of sour cherries at the supermarket and bought it, hoping that I could replicate the cobbler at home. What I ended up with isn't quite what Jenn served us, since hers used dates and I didn't have any, but it is truly good and worth sharing.

This is recipe not raw food, because the cherries are heat treated when they are jarred. If you wanted to be properly raw, you would use frozen cherries, thawed.

Vegan Cherry Cobbler
serves 4

crumb layer
1 cup coconut
1 cup mixed walnuts and almonds
3 prunes
4 dried apricots

Process everything until crumbly. Set aside.

fruit layer
2 cups jarred sour cherries, drained very well
2 prunes
6 dried apricots
dash of cinnamon
dash of cardamom
honey or sugar (optional)

Process everything until smooth or only slightly lumpy. Sour cherries can be a bit too sour, so sweeten to taste with honey or sugar.

Layer the fruit and crumb mixtures into clear glasses for a fancy individual presentation, or make a big bowl for family style pig-out.

Kristen's Project Runway


My sister is marrying later this year and she has asked me to pattern her dress. Even though I am more likely to be making patterns for furry lobsters and dead wolves, I agreed to pull out my dormant costuming skills and do my best.

Jenn is very elegant and wants a dress that is simple, smooth and sexy. She sent me a design sketch
along with some photos of dresses whose details she liked. This is very Jenn and it will look great on her. She is hoping to have it in red silk dupioni.


So having a few moments today, I started really thinking about the dress she drew and how it could be constructed. I spent hours poring over fashion photos, patterns and sewing techniques. Nothing out there is quite like this dress so I can't cheat and buy two commercial patterns and combine them. This is going to be a challenge!

On first view of the sketch, I suggested a two-piece construction to Jenn. The line isn't as smooth when you have a separate bodice and skirt but it is easier to mix the skirt and top styles and also allows more versatility in wearing the pieces again. She's agreed and I will follow that course, since it will make the pattern and construction possible for a novice like me. I do not have to work in the fashion fabric. My mother's seamstress friend, Phyllis, will make up the final dress, but I will need to sew a muslin to make sure the design works.

The skirt will be simple enough. I have some choices to make about how to piece the fabric to form the train, but overall, this is pretty basic. I am not sure it is going to drape in the silk dupioni that way Jenn's sketch shows. Dupioni is a bit crunchy and it doesn't stretch at all. I will definitely have to piece the skirt carefully to give Jenn a smooth fit over her hips and also enough ease to sit and walk. I need to find out more about her desired train length, too.

The bodice is going to be more difficult than the skirt.

There is no fastening shown in Jenn's drawing. The natural thought is to wrap the whole bodice in line with the collar, so the bodice is double thickness in the front, and close it using hooks or buttons on the inside side and on the outside a button that matches the ones on the cuffs. Or perhaps a side zipper can work; I need to think about how to insert a zipper into a wrapped, long sleeved garment.

Regardless of which way I close it, I think I have to make Jenn wear it wrapped left over right. Right over left is how Japanese kimono are worn in death and I really don't want to inflict any possible bad karma on my sister's new marriage.

The off-the-shoulder neckline is very wide in Jenn's sketch. In fact, it is wider in the back than the front. In the front version of the drawing, the bottom of the collar hits the top of the shoulder. In the back view, the top of the collar hits the top of the shoulder. That is going to need some adjustment to prevent wardrobe malfunction. I think the front view is how I will proceed. It will still be open and elegant, but not likely to fall off. The backline will come up a bit but the wedding is in the autumn, so that extra inch of coverage could prevent frostbite.

The back of the bodice will have to be darted to fit properly and I need to think about where it should break - just below the waist? A little lower? If I take it as far down as the hip, it will look too much like a jacket (although a strapless or sleeveless dress with a very short wrapped jacket is not a bad idea). I will try to keep the seam lines in accord with the skirt piecing, so the look is - I was going to say seamless, but that is so wrong - flowing smoothly down her back.

Cuffs are fun and Jenn hasn't given me quite enough direction here. I need to find out more about the size and shape she is hoping for. Otherwise I am giving her pirate cuffs, matey.

So with all that to think about, here is the sketch I have done up, based on Jenn's original one. Please ignore the irregularities - the sleeves are different lengths and I don't have Jenn's measurements, so I think I have given her extra stubby legs (or maybe a hyper extended torso). I hope you get the idea despite my poor ability at realistic drawing.


No doubt there will be further reports on the progress of the dress design and patterning. Stay tuned.

Eco Future Fund video

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One of the charities that we raised money for at the Australia Day Gala Ball is Eco Future Fund. They do reforestation and forest maintenance projects in Japan, and also run forestation and wood-alternative projects overseas.

To help sell their mission, I created a short video that we played on the big screens on the night of the ball. I'm sure nobody actually watched it - I only caught a glimpse of it from the back of the room as I was running an errand - and that might be OK. It was a challenge to put it together in the free moments between my other work and I didn't have much material to use. But since I recruited MJ to narrate and wracked my brains to tell a positive story about how our auction earnings would be spent, thought I would put the finished piece on YouTube. Maybe someone else will see it and get involved.

Other videos from the ball are online, too, in my YouTube area

Shuzenji Onsen, Shizuoka

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I love making little weekend trips to places in Japan. Every town has its charms and I am rarely disappointed, even when we choose at random. I wish I would remember this more often and make an effort to explore more of the country.

This weekend, I whisked Tod away for a Valentine weekend of "athletics and adventure." We went to Shuzenji, a 1200 year old onsen town in the middle of Izu. On the outskirts of the city is the Cycle Sports Center, a weird pedal-powered amusement park that also has several real biking courses. Tod had a great time; I fell off my bicycle on the 5K course. The wheeled things have it in for me. I bruised my knee and my ego, but no permanent harm was done.

I had a great time in the giant maze, though, and loved the "Interesting Bicycles" course where we tried out hand-pedaled bikes, an old fashioned big-wheel-in-front cycle, a sideways bicycle for two and a bunch of other novelties. The pedaled roller coasters and other rides were a kick, too.

We stayed at an Indonesian themed hotel called Yutorian. In addition to a lovely (but very chilly) rotenburo and the usual indoor bath, it has a mixed sex bath that is built in a natural cave. The story of the cave is an interesting one. One day in the late 80s, the owner of the hotel picked up a drill and started digging. After two years of daily drilling wit his family scoffing at him for being nuts, he broke through into the cave. He didn't know he would. I wonder what possessed him to start drilling the mountain outside his hotel?

After a dinner that featured too many scallops for my liking, Tod & I went out to look at the stars. With the advice of the hotel staff we had scoped out a really dark spot in the middle of a field near the elementary school. I wanted to give my Christmas toy, the Celestron SkyScout, its first real outing. It was freezing cold and the half moon was so bright it cast shadows, but we had a good time pointing the SkyScout at things and asking it to tell us what they were. Until my fingers were too numb to work the buttons, we also located the various planets (most of which were on the other side of the earth) and stars whose names we remembered.

Today we explored the onsen town, climbing the mountain to the ume forest-park at the top and enjoying a plum blossom festival, then descending to visit Shuzenji temple where I made my hatsumode (a little later than usual) and got a daikichi (big luck) fortune that tells me I will get ahead in the world. We stuck our feet in the legendary Dokko no Yu, climbed the tourist association's little tower, and just enjoyed wandering the village and seeing the sights.

At a shop near the train station, I scored a new teapot to replace the one we broke last year. The shopkeepers were wonderfully careful - unwrapping the brand-new pot and ringing the ceramic to make sure it was intact, then heating the rubber pour spout in hot water and adjusting the fit before running around to find a box for it. While we waited and watched the ceremony of the teapot preparations, I noticed that the couple's painted portrait hung above the door to the stockroom. Perhaps an anniversary gift... it was sweet.

All in all, we enjoyed a great weekend break from the big city.

Hotate hell


I am allergic to scallops, hotate in Japanese.

Eating them causes a really unpleasant reaction: my lungs seize up and I panic as I try to catch my breath. As a result I am pretty careful about avoiding scallops but twice this week I have been caught out in dishes where they lurked without warning.

I thought I was ok because I discovered them and picked them out of my food both times, but I was wrong. After years of successful avoidance, after lunch today I discovered that in addition to making my lungs unhappy, scallops cause my tongue and face swell up. Wheee.

I will exercise extreme caution with my seafood orders from now on and doubly so in February, the height of hotate season.

Food Days Continue


This weekend has turned into a festival of food. Though I hoped to get out and about and to catch up on some creative projects, I really cannot fuss much about spending my time in the kitchen. Especially when the process is fun and the results are so delicious.

Around dinnertime, Tod offered to do the shopping while I worked on starters but the trip destroyed his bicycle. A Morsbag full of ingredients dangling from this handlebars got caught in his front wheel. Fortunately, Tod was spared injury and the bottle of wine that did the damage was opened with the help of tin snips and pliers. The bike will be replaced later today.

Dinner was a feast and we were happy to have Rob over to share it with us. We made crackers from Heidi Swanson's recipe and they were fabulously light and flavorful. I whipped up an avocado spread with dried tomatoes, and we served mohamara and oat crackers, too. And that was just the opening.

Our main was aqua pazza with clams, red snapper and Chilean sea bass served with green rice, which seems to be short grain brown rice and cooks up beautifully nutty and robust. Tod made an amazing salad of strawberries and rocket. I don't think we had dessert; we certainly didn't need it.

Oat Crackers
makes about a dozen

1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1/4 cup warm water

Mix the oats, salt, and water with your hands until a dough forms. Press the dough into a disc, sprinkle with oats and roll out thinly between sheets of waxed paper. Cut into cracker shapes and bake at 170C for about 15 minutes, or until the crackers are thoroughly dry and crispy. Store in an airtight container.

serves 1-6

2 or 3 large sweet red peppers
1 Tbsp water
2/3 c. walnuts, lightly toasted
2/3 c breadcrumbs
1/4 c olive oil
1.5 tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt

Roast the peppers until charred all over. Peel, stem and seed them, then chop coarsely. Place everything in the food processor and process until smooth. Taste for salt. Rest at least a few hours, ideally overnight, and at most 7 days. Serve at room temperature.

Aqua Pazza
serves 4

Normally in aqua pazza the vegetables are removed from the liquid and discarded before the fish is poached, but I like to serve the vegetables so I leave them in.

1 carrot
1 stalk celery
5 small tomatoes
1/2 yellow bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, halved
1 bunch mitsuba (or parsley)
2 Tbsn black olives
3-4 firm fleshed fish fillets, skin on
2 dozen small clams
cheap white wine and/or water
salt & pepper to taste

Chop the vegetables into serving size pieces. Put all the vegetables and seasonings into a heavy pan with a lid. Pour in wine to a depth of 3 cm - or a little more if you like. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add the fish and clams, cover and simmer another 5 or 6 minutes until the fish is cooked and the clams are open. Serve with rice or bread to sop up the broth.

Strawberry Salad
serves 4

This was inspired by Tod"s love of strawberries and black pepper and Mark Bittman's strawberry salad recipe which incorporates both, plus balsamic vinegar and arugula.

1 pint strawberries
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
fresh black pepper
1 blood orange
1 Tbsp goat cheese
5 stems fresh spearmint
2 cups rucola/rocket/arugula
olive oil

Quarter the strawberries, mix with balsamic & lots of black pepper and marinate ten minutes. Peel, section, remove the inner skin, and chop the blood orange. Mix with the strawberries, crumble goat cheese over, and toss with rocket and spearmint leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle with your best olive oil.

A Food Day

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Today is my first weekend off in what seems like forever, and it is a long weekend to boot, so Tod & I celebrated a lazy Saturday by spending most of it in the kitchen. After so many weeks of dinners at the office, I have access to my own kitchen and pantry. I am in heaven.

We started off our culinary day with "Wilty Frittata" made with three eggs and a leftover lettuce, tomato and parmesan salad with croutons that I found in the fridge. Leftover salad (undressed, of course) has a lot of possibilities and we often use it as sandwich filling or as the base for a fresh salad, but this is the first time I've made a frittata with lettuce. It was worth remembering.

Wilty Frittata
serves 2

1 Tbsp olive oil
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups of leftover salad, mostly greens
1 Tbsp parmesan
salt & pepper to taste
1 small tomato, diced
drizzle of salad dressing

Heat the oil in a fry pan that has a lid. Pour in the eggs, and arrange any non-lettuce bits of the salad and the parmesan evenly over the eggs. Reserving a few leaves of greens for the garnish, place the rest in the pan with the eggs. Cook, covered, over medium heat for about 10 minutes. The eggs should be cooked through. If not, slide the frittata out of the pan onto a plate, then invert the pan over the plate, turn the pan-plate over and remove the plate. Cook another 5 minutes or as needed to firm up the eggs.

Top the finished frittata with the reserved leaves, diced tomato, and a drizzle of salad dressing.


For lunch we had a surprisingly tasty fusion of Japanese "ganmo" tofu and shiso pickles with carrot and lettuce wrapped in flour tortillas. After lunch, I baked some oat crackers and made red pepper and walnut dip for tomorrow. Later on in the day, we tried making oven-roasted beet chips from Mark Bittman's excellent "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian", but they failed - they were either burned to a crisp or soggy. It was a sad mistake. However, Bittman redeemed himself with a recipe for popcorn brittle that I vamped on to make a spiced movie snack.

Spiced Popcorn Brittle
serves 4 or more

2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp each: ginger, cinnamon, cardamom
6 cups popcorn, salted
1/2 cup sesame seeds
oil for greasing

Grease a cookie sheet or baking pan and set aside. Mix together the spices, sugar and water in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the sugar carmelises. Drizzle the sugar syrup over the popcorn, stirring to coat. (Take care not to actually stick your hands into the bowl to mix this - hot sugar hurts!) Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Spread in the greased pan and allow to cool.

Mom's Shady Activities

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"My goodness, she always seemed like such a nice woman," is what her neighbors will say after the nosy Internet police come for my mother.

This week Mom has Googled torture devices and ordered gun holsters online. In real life she's backed up her suspicious online movements by borrowing a car battery from the local auto shop. Goodness knows what she got up to in the thrift shops.

Mom does props for Ephrata Performing Arts Center and in March they will put on The Pillowman, a rather dark comedy.

When the spooks arrive at my mother's door to investigate, they will find her kitchen full of baby toes made from marzipan & glue-on pedicure toenails (who knew there was such a thing?). She sculpted an experimental batch and is testing them for resilience over time. They get thrown on stage and if they are too dry they will bounce unrealistically.

Do you think "But, officer, I'm a prop mistress!" will hold water with the authorities, or should I get the bail money ready now? She just turned "three years older than dirt" yesterday - I wonder if the bail bondsmen offer a senior discount?

Happy birthday, Mom!

Anchors 3, Cables 0, Experts -1

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In the past week, three undersea cables carrying Internet data to and from the Middle East have been damaged. It's really messing up data traffic in Egypt, India and throughout the Gulf region. They say two of the breaks were due to ships anchors; the third is undetermined.

Reading about it this morning, I came across a quote by Eric Schoonover, a senior analyst with TeleGeography, who was placating the American Internet users. "We have all the content here," he said. "It's not going to be felt other than we won't get the BBC."

What stunning hubris. Ouch.

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