giv’em the karats, but save me the carrots

Is it wedding season or what!? This summer alone five couples I personally know (as in not my great-aunt’s friend’s son-in-law’s nephew) are getting married! It really is stunning here in Vancouver at this moment though. The days are long, and tender foliage shimmers under the late afternoon sun, casting my studio in its bosky glow.

And of course, with this buzzing symphony of summer weddings, you can’t help but get a little bit bubbly about all the new beginnings. I mean, if you live in Canada it’s hard to consider spring as the season of new life and energy, but summer is a whole different story (even here in the laid-back West). For me, summer’s when I’m most inspired, and when I have the luxury to dream. I do find myself doing more things outside the box (euphemism for my narrow comfort zone), so maybe that’s pushing me to find out more about myself, and the God who I trust – what He has given me, what He wants me to give.

I’m clear on this fact: God has given me full-on freedom to explore, grow, and lead in Him. As for the rest of life’s worries, He says, He will shoulder. All I have to give is, ironically, my all. But hey, I think that’s a pretty good investment if it’s the Creator rooting for me.

So for now, I’ll take the carrot – to cultivate, to nourish, and to share. Because I can’t yet see the beauty in a karat.

In the meantime, congratulations to all the gorgeous brides out there! You are not just beautiful, but strong and courageous. All the best and be very blessed.

I want you to be free

from anxieties.

The unmarried man is anxious

about the things of the Lord,

how to please the Lord.

1 Corinthians 7:32

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Ingredients for the Tropical Carrot Cake, makes two 9-inch layers:

3 c oat flour (grind oats in your coffee/spice grinder)

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

2 c brown sugar

1 large orange, zest only

1 tbsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla paste (use pure vanilla extract if you don’t have this)

1 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil

1 medium, ripe banana

2 c coarsely grated carrot

1 c finely chopped fresh pineapple

1 c sultana raisins

1 c chopped walnuts, toasted

To make the carrot cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with the rack placed in the center of the oven. Line the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.

Whisk together the oat flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Whiz the brown sugar, orange zest, cinnamon, vanilla, olive oil, and banana in a blender or food processor until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture becomes a thick caramel consistency.

Pour the brown sugar mixture into the flour mixture and stir just to combine. Fold in the carrot, pineapple, raisins, and walnuts until well combined.

Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pans and smooth out the top. Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes. The cakes should have crisp and very golden brown tops, and the sides should be pulling slightly away from the pan. Cool completely, cover, and chill overnight.

Ingredients for the Coconut Vanilla Bean Mousse, makes enough for 2 layers:

400 g traditional or silken firm tofu

1 can coconut cream, chilled, solid fat only

1 generous tsp vanilla paste

2-3 tbsp agave nectar, to taste

To prepare the tofu, tip out any liquid in the container. Rinse the tofu under cold running water, and put it back in the container. Fill the container to the top with filtered water, and place it in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Repeat this step.

Drain the tofu and pat dry with some kitchen towel. Fold a new sheet of kitchen towel in half and place it on a clean working surface. Cut the tofu into 2-cm thick slices and arrange them, cut side down, on the kitchen towel. Cover with another folded sheet of kitchen towel. Put a heavy wooden cutting board on top to give it some pressure. Let sit for 10 minutes. Change the kitchen towel, then let it sit for another 10 minutes to fully extract the moisture.

Puree the tofu in a blender or food processor and puree until extremely smooth. Add the coconut cream, vanilla, and agave and blend until creamy. Cover and chill completely.

For the cake assembly you’ll need:

1/2 c pineapple compote (home made of course, or yuzu preserves, even sauteed apples will work)

1/2 c unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted

To assemble the cake, run a knife along the sides of the pans to loosen the cakes. Invert one cake layer onto your cake stand and peel off the parchment. Cover the top with the pineapple compote, and invert the remaining cake layer onto the cake. Cover the entire cake (top and sides) with the mousse frosting and smooth it out.

Garnish with the toasted coconut and edible flowers (not necessary, but it’s pretty!)

Store in the refrigerator and, as always, enjoy (with a nice cup of earl grey or black coffee)!

Layers

It’s amazing how an actual attempt in putting your mind to something can make you realize how terrible you are at focusing. I am, by no means, one who is timid in enforcing self control. But at times (blame spring and the fever that comes with it) I just find progress depressingly close to being stagnant while my mind rummages through even the least significant details dating back to over half a decade.

And then I’m thinking, if I am carrying so much junk with me, how am I supposed to pick up anything new and valuable? How I wish I could just empty my mind like dumping all those second-rate photos into the recycling bin then emptying that with just a couple of clicks. I wish my mind could absorb new knowledge like downloading a (legitimate) program.

But then what kind of life would that be? Isn’t life supposed to be valued by the little things that take our breath away – the smell of fresh rain on the sun-baked sidewalk, the coolness of plunging my arms elbow-deep into a sac filled with rice, the shadows of branches swaying to the breeze?

Oh, please make everything new again.

Create in me a clean heart,

O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Psalms 51:10

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Ingredients for the Tofu Carpaccio – serves 2:

400 g organic silken firm tofu

2 tbsp thick soy sauce

1 tbsp brown sugar, or agave, or maple syrup (whatever you have)

1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar

1/4 tsp toasted sesame oil

1 tsp Szechuan chili oil

2 scallions, thinly sliced

crumbled nori and toasted white sesame seeds/ chopped peanuts, to garnish

To clean the tofu, tip out all the liquid in the tofu container. Gently rinse the tofu under cold water. Put it in a lidded container  that fits and pour cold filtered water over it until it is completely submerged. Cover and refrigerate overnight. This will give your tofu a very clean, delicate flavour without an overpowering soy taste.

The next day you will notice that the water has taken on a yellowish tinge, that’s perfect. Tip out that liquid again, take out the tofu, and rinse under cold water again. Pat it dry with some kitchen towel, then wrap it with a cheese cloth on your cutting board. Leave a weighted plate on it for 15 minutes or so to help extract the moisture. This will help you get those super-thin slices as well as prevent your finished carpaccio from drowning in its own liquid.

Unwrap the tofu, and using your sharpest knife, carefully slice the tofu as thin as possible. As soon as you make a slice, lay it on the plate overlapping to conform to the shape of your plate (it is nearly impossible to try and transfer each slice after accumulating them on the cutting board.) Once you’re done slicing and plating, chill it in the fridge.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil to combine. Take out the tofu (if moisture has formed, dab it gently with more kitchen towel. Drizzle on the sauce and chili oil. Garnish with the scallions and nori, sesame/peanuts, if using.

Serve with steamed rice…you’ll need lots, but enjoy!

 

 

Ain’t No Outrunning the Potato

Under normal circumstances I’m calm and umm… perhaps disconnected (not sure it’s the right word, but that’s not remotely important). ANYWAYS, oh my foodness gracious I can’ t wait to share this salad with you. And for you meat-and-potato guys out there, yeah you, I’m feeling pretty solid on this one. I mean, filled with crispy roasted purple potatoes, caramelized eggplant, toasted almonds, plump sultana raisins, surely something in that list must have hit your sweet spot.

Or maybe you’re wondering if you’d like that combination. But hey, practically everything in life is trial and error (don’t do drugs, kids). Yes, of course a homogeneous bunch of people will get along, but that’s probably the most they’ll ever be. As for me, I feel blessed to have someone sweet to lift my heart, someone spicy to tickle my mind, and someone to act as salt – whom I can’t live without.

Life is a potato salad; you can put whatever you want in it. It can be a side, it can be a show. It can ruin you, it can make you. I take chances with my potato salad. I take time with each component I’ve chosen. I don’t start with a recipe – so it won’t ever be wrong.

It’s just that you want it to fulfill its purpose of providing joy and nourishment to those you love, and not have it end up in the trash.

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Ingredients for the roasted eggplant and zucchini:

1 large round eggplant, diced

1 medium zucchini, quartered then sliced 1/2 inch thick

2/3 tsp sea salt

few rounds freshly cracked black pepper

2 tbsp grape seed oil

To roast the eggplant and zucchini, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with one rack placed at the lower third of the oven and the other at the upper third. Toss all ingredients together very well, spread in a single layer onto a clean baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven on the top rack for 15 minutes, or until the edges are brown and the centers are tender. Let it rest for 5 minutes before lifting them from the pan. The 5 minutes of rest will allow steam to permeate beneath the vegetables so they don’t stick and you can get them out of the pan with their beautiful caramelized bottoms intact effortlessly.

Ingredients for the crispy blue potatoes:

1 litre water

3 tbsp white vinegar

1 1/2 tsp sea salt, divided

500g blue new potatoes, scrubbed clean and halved

lots of freshly cracked black pepper

glug of grape seed oil, about 3-4 tbsp

To make the roasted potatoes, combine the water and vinegar in a pot, cover, and bring to the boil. Add 1 tsp of the salt and the potatoes. Cover and boil for 5-8 minutes, or just until tender. Drain and rinse under cool water only until cool enough to handle, then cut each half in half again, to get quarters.

Observe the skin, and once it loses its sheen from the moisture, toss the potatoes with the remaining salt, pepper, and oil.

Place the potatoes, skin side down, on a baking sheet (you don’t need to line it or anything – this way you can get the spuds super-crispy). Bake in the hot oven (450 degrees) for 15~20 minutes, until they whistle and puff (literally) and get, of course, super-crispy.

Ingredients for the salad:

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves torn, tender stems chopped, and tough stems discarded

20 almonds, toasted and chopped

1 handful sultana raisins

2 tbsp grainy mustard

big splash, 4-5 tbsp of balsamic vinegar

To assemble the salad, whisk together the mustard and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. Toss together the roasted eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, parsley, almonds and raisins in a large salad bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over and toss to combine.

Serve with a fresh baguette or a steak for a rounded meal, or just have it all by itself, which is the way I have mine.

Enjoy!

Frites with Benefits

Life is a tuber

slumbering. In woe

with worms and woodbugs

and warmth        just enough.

Life is a tuber     growing      fat.

Underground     blind   and  quiet

hard.                       Life is a tuber

humdrum,                                ho-hum.

Cut it                                                  open,

add some fire,

forget not to season –

life is  a

tuber.

It’s better to be a tuber which feeds the nations, than to be caviar which we can all do without.

Pride brings a person low,

But the lowly in spirit gain honour.

Proverbs 29: 23

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Ingredients for the goat cheese aioli –  goodbye chipotle aioli, no apologies:

100 g herb goat cheese (or use plain and add 1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme)

2-3 tbsp hot water, as needed

3 tbsp good quality mayonnaise

few grinds freshly cracked black pepper

To make the goat cheese aioli, mash the goat cheese in a small bowl, adding hot water as necessary until creamy – you want it to be a frosting consistency. Stir in the mayonnise and black pepper, refrigerate until needed.

 Ingredients for the crispy sweet potato fries:

2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed under running water then wiped dry

2 tbsp corn starch

1 tsp smoked paprika

2 tbsp avocado or grape seed oil

To make the sweet potato fries, cut the sweet potatoes into thin sticks, about 1/3 inch or 1 cm in thickness and put them in a large mixing bowl. You can do this 2 hours in advance and let them dehydrate at room temperature – this will help them crisp up and caramelize better in the oven.

Once you’re ready, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F , with to racks spaced evenly (you really need to wander up the high end with the temperature for it to crisp up). Toss the dry sweet potato sticks with the corn starch and paprika to coat as evenly as possible. Adding corn starch when the sweet potatoes are still dry helps makes the coating very even and perfectly thin. Drizzle the oil over the fries and toss again to coat evenly, be patient and really try to make the oil go the mile.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and take your time to place them (yes, each and every one) onto the baking sheets in a single layer so they don’t touch. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, then switch the top batch with the lower batch and continue baking for 5~10 minutes until crispy and well caramelized (the skin should puff up a bit).

Serve immediately with the goat cheese aioli. The longer these fries sit the softer they get, so enjoy them while they’re golden!

Ooooohhh that goat cheese aioli though…!!

Plain Lucky

Perks of knowing how to cook:

a. eating $100 meals for under $16

b. grocery shopping is a piece of cake

c. making fun of boneless-skinless chicken breasts

d. good food magically happens

e. people love you

f.  you love life

g. afjsdk;oiveoih09/@””!!~

Perks of not knowing how to cook:

a. all of the above**

**if you do the following:

Sprinkle their blood on the altar,

and burn their fat as a special gift,

a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

Numbers 18:17

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Ingredients for the 72-hour beef ribs:

2 tbsp ground thyme

2 tsp rosemary leaves

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

4 fat cloves garlic, mashed to a fine puree

1 tbsp sea salt

2~3 tbsp olive oil, enough to form a rough paste with the spices

1/2 rack beef ribs (4 full-size ribs, preferably free range)

To make the 72-hour beef ribs, stir together the thyme, rosemary, pepper, garlic puree, salt, and olive oil until a thick paste forms. Rub this mixture all over the beef ribs (on all sides, emphasizing the top-side). Place the ribs in a roasting tin and cover tightly with foil. Refrigerate for 3 nights (2 days).

On the third day, 3~4 hours before mealtime, preheat the oven to 315 degrees F, with the rack placed in the middle of the oven. Take the roasting tin with the ribs straight from the fridge into the oven, you don’t even have to wait for the oven to reach its temperature. Bake for 3~ 3 1/2 hours until the meat literally falls off the bone and your house smells better than any steakhouse you know.

Serve immediately. I highly recommend serving this with mashed potatoes and a generous drizzle of the beef drippings. I’m sorry I don’t have photos of the finished product, but that just goes to testify for its deliciousness.

Enjoy! (Oh, boy you will…ahh..)

A Girl and Agar

Being should not require an explanation. I am who I am. You are who you are. He is who he is. It’s very straight-forward, like conjugating verbs. In fact, there are more verbes (oops, excuse the french spelling…I tend to automatically go into french mode when I start thinking about grammaire and conjugasons) in this life than one that should not require an explanation. Sleeping, feeling, breathing, laughing, loving, crying…the list goes on. Oh, and needless to say, eating would be a member of that list too.

So what happens when you try to explain these things that aren’t meant to be explained? How can you explain to someone what sleeping is when you’re not even awake when you engage in it? How can you explain laughing when it’s often laced with tears, and crying when it wears a most heart-breaking smile. How can you?

You can’t. I can’t.

I’ve tried, I mean with the eating bit.

I’ve tried explaining to people how I eat. No, not the mechanics of sinking the teeth of a fork into a cherry tomato, subconsciously employing triangulation and advanced hand-eye coordination to bring it to my mouth, then embracing it with my lips only to sink my own teeth into it. No, I mean what I believe to be the right fuel for my body, mind, and soul. I’ve tried, but since I can’t really explain even the nouns body, mind, and soul, I was rather ill-equipped for the challenge.

And another thing, usually these attempts not only bring about confusion, but also casualty…ies. I mean, it’s only a tad bit awks when the person jabbing at a breakfast sausage in his plate sitting beside you in the cafe asks why you don’t eat meat (when you actually do, but just prefer to avoid those that are anonymously sourced.) Do you feed their brains right there and then of the hormone- and antibiotic-saturated conspiracy behind the commercialized farming practices that produced the now-become last bite of the sausage left in their plate?

Excuse me, but that would be rude. Then what? Well, maybe this will help.

Those who feel free to eat anything

must not look down on those don’t.

And those who don’t eat certain foods

must not condemn those who do,

for God has accepted them.

– Romans 14:3

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Ingredients for the Sesame Cucumber Slaw:

1 cup dried agar weed, cut into 2-inch strands

1 long English cucumber, julienned

Ingredients for the toasted sesame dressing:

4 tbsp Chinese sesame paste or tahini

1 tbsp packed brown sugar

1 tbsp rice winegar

1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar or shiitake vinegar

1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce

1~2 tsp Szechuan chili pepper confit (or chili oil)

1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds or chopped toasted peanuts

To make the slaw, soak the agar weed in water that’s hot to the touch for 10~15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine all ingredients except the sesame seeds for the dressing. Once the agar is re-hydrated, squeeze it very dry with your hands and place in a large bowl. Toss to combine with the cucumber and sesame dressing. Serve immediately or chilled (just make sure you stir it up a bit before serving), with sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

Enjoy!