Friday, July 31, 2009

Zucchini Lulu

This was a recipe my grandma Lulu got from some Italian neighbors of hers, back in the days when few Canadians had ever heard of balsamic vinegar. These Italians made their own, and I remember loving this dish with an accompanying feeling of despair that I would never be able to make it myself without them to supply me...

Zucchini Lulu
Serves 1 hungry person or 2 as a side dish

1 grocery store sized (or equivalent piece of garden sized, seeds removed) zucchini
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint (or 1 tsp dried)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Slice the zucchini very fine. I used the slicing end of my box grater. Place it in a colander, sprinkle 1 tsp salt over it, and mix it up with your hands. Leave it for 20 minutes to 1/2 hour while you assemble whatever else you're going to be serving with this. The zucchini will begin to "sweat". Take up fistfuls of the zucchini and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. You don't have to squeeze out all the liquid, but the more you get out, the more crispy the end result will be. In the end, it should look something like this:

Now add the flour (I used leftover Seasoned Flour from yesterday, but I don't think it will matter much in the end) and mix with your hands until the zucchini is coated and there's no flour loose at the bottom of the bowl.

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron or nonstick skillet, and, when hot, pour in the zucchini mixture. Smash and mold it with your hands and a spatula until it is in the shape of a pancake about 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. Cover and let cook on medium heat until the bottom has browned, approximately 5 minutes.

Now turn it. If, as happened to me, the thing begins to fall apart, don't fret. Just cut it into pieces with the spatula and flip those. It's going to be delicious pretty much no matter what you do. Any messiness only makes it more appealing ;-) Cook the other side, uncovered, for another three or four minutes or so, until browned.

When the pancake is cooked, remove it to a separate plate, and add a little more olive oil to the pan, along with the chopped garlic and mint. Let cook for about 1 minute until fragrant, then add the balsamic vinegar. Cook a further 30 seconds, then pour over the pancake. Wonderful!

This was served with a brown rice/tofu/cooked chopped greens/garlic mixture inspired by Deborah Madison's "rice with eggs" recipe topped, as she suggests, with salt and pepper walnuts (hot fresh-roasted walnuts mixed with a little walnut oil and salt and pepper). It was so good.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bug eyes - a quiz

Whose eyes are these?





5. (worth a click!)




1. Bee 2. Aphid 3. Grasshopper 4. Daddy long legs 5. Moth 6. Ant
7. Fly

Breast of Tofu + Cilantro-Avocado Potato Salad

Two of my absolute favorite dishes of all time in one outstanding meal! Bryanna Clark Grogan's Breast of Tofu and Emeril Lagasse's Cilantro-Avocado Potato Salad. Eating this, I felt blessed that there are such things on this planet as tofu, potatoes, and avocados, and such amazingly wonderful cooks as Bryanna and Emeril.

I'll provide the recipes and the links. These recipes are perfect as is. I don't change a thing!

Bryanna's "Breast of Tofu"
by Bryanna Clark Grogan

They can be pan-fried plain on a nonstick skillet, or coated with Seasoned Flour (see below) and shallow-fried to make a crispy "skin" that is delectable hot or cold.

1 1/2 to 2 lbs extra-firm or pressed tofu
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
2 tsp dried sage leaves, crumbled (or 2 tbsp fresh, chopped)
1/2 tsp dried rosemary (or 1/2 tbsp fresh)
1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1/2 tbsp fresh, chopped)
1/2 tsp onion powder

Prepare the marinade by mixing all of the ingredients together in a (at least 5-cup) container with a tight lid. Slice the tofu about 1/4" thick and place in the marinade so that it is covered with liquid. Cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks, shaking daily.

Coat the slices with Seasoned Flour (below).

Heat about 1 tbsp neutral cooking oil (like canola) in a heavy bottomed skillet (cast iron, hard-anodized, or heavy nonstick) over medium heat (no hotter). When the oil is good and hot, add the slices and cook (watching carefully) until golden brown and crispy on the bottom. Turn the slices over and cook the other side until golden and crispy. The medium heat works really well when frying things crispy in less oil than usual.

Bryanna's Seasoned Flour

Mix together:
2 cups wholewheat, or other wholegrain, flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp onion powder, optional
freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Zoa's note: After they were cooked, I lifted the slices out of the pan, and then deglazed it with 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice and approximately 1 tbsp rinsed capers and cooked it for about 30 seconds. The resulting sauce was piquant and awesome!

Avocado-Cilantro Potato Salad
by Emeril Lagasse

2 lbs potatoes, peeled, small diced, and cooked in boiling salted water until tender, drained
1/3 cup finely minced red onions
1 tbsp minced garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 firm-ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and diced
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp minced jalapeno
1 ounce cilantro, leaves picked and finely chopped

Combine potatoes, onions, and garlic in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3 turns pepper. Add olive oil, tossing to coat. Add the avocados, lime juice, jalapenos, and cilantro, and toss well to combine. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.

Zoa's note: You don't have to refrigerate this for 1 minute before serving, as I can attest, but even half a recipe makes quite a bit and I had leftovers for lunch today and they were still great.

I served all this with some baby salad greens lightly sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic. Yes, you can cook them. Yes, I do it all the time.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Miscellany 1

What I had for supper tonight. On the upside, the bun (homemade, of course!) and the condiments rocked. But the burger part was kind of meh. My quest for the perfect vegan burger continues.

My garden in the evening light:

A new kind of sempervivum flower:


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Veronica spicata up close and personal

This plant is more commonly known around here as speedwell, or in this case spike speedwell, since it grows in long thin spikes. There are a few varieties in my garden, of which this is the happiest, an early starter and genteel self-seeder that never presumes, but seems to appear only in places where it knows it will grow well, and where it looks great.

These flowers are tiny, each spreading out to a maximum diameter of maybe 5 or 6 mm, wide open. So photographing them has been a test of my steadiness of hand and of my camera's zoom capacities (augmented by the Raynox super macro conversion lens). As you approach infinity zoom the depth of field (what you can focus on) gets narrower and narrower, to the point, as you'll see below, that it can focus only on a few cells of one of the closed anthers. This is frustrating but also, artistically, in my opinion, quite kewl. I like how the backgrounds fade into smears of colour in these super macro shots.

Closed flower buds...

One begins to open...

The developing anthers peek out...

A little more...

Here they are fully extended, but still closed:

And a closeup. When the anthers do unfurl, as you can see in the image heading this post, the pollen is white and the individual grains are minute. In order to get any kind of focus at all--since even my heartbeat makes the camera shake out of focus when the zoom is so far extended--I have to shoot at an extremely high shutter speed in bright sunlight. The pollen reflects the sunlight and comes out as a blurry blaze of white, so despite strenuous efforts, I wasn't able to capture the kind of pollen detail as with the lilies and calendula. Too bad! Maybe if I had a tripod...

The stigma develops after the stamens. Oh, hello there!

Here's a closeup of the inside of the flower, which looks like a cellophane membrane in the photograph above and cannot be seen at all with the naked eye. The critters actually swim around in it, resurfacing here and there:


If you like critters, click on the image of the flower stalk at the beginning of the post and see how many you can find.

Sunday brunch - mango banana coconut lime smoothie

...because it's too dang hot to cook!

Saturday brunch - scrambled tofu

..with mushrooms, cauliflower, red and jalapeno peppers, green onions, and chives, and seasoned with Montreal steak spice. I make my roti just like Manjula does.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Calendula paradise

These are unretouched images, cropped but otherwise straight from the camera. In particular, I didn't touch the colours. They were all taken in blazing midday sunlight, in my camera's manual mode with a manual always, you'll get more detail when you click on an image.

It's hard to believe these are all the same species of plant (though they aren't all the same individual flower):

And closer...

Looks like heaven, doesn't it? Don't you wish you lived there? Many do! These little cuties are no bigger than a few grains of pollen:

Thursday, July 23, 2009


The lilies are blooming, and they are miraculous. A new one seems to peel open between one eyeblink and the next.

There are two kinds in my garden (not counting daylilies and lilies of the valley): tiger lilies and white ones. The white lilies I grew from buds or seeds from a neighbour's plant, and it has taken them three years—until this morning—to flower, so I'm pretty pleased.

So was this ant, who had a lot of business to take care of in the centre of this flower. Check out the "antennae" dangling from her chin, more on which later…

Here's a closeup of the purple markings on the petals:

The anthers hang delicately from the stamens on little hinges, so that the least touch or breath of wind makes them tremble, knocking pollen over everything in the vicinity. Bees visiting these lilies are literally fluorescent orange all over their bottom half—I think they must visit these flowers just for their copious pollen, since I don't see any nectar.

The anthers start out closed, and gradually unfurl until they are flat like two oblong dinner plates filled with food, which for some I suppose they are:

And here's the pollen itself:


My next purchase is going to have to be a microscope ;-)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beans and greens over soft polenta

What to do, when you spend the whole afternoon experimenting with your new camera lens, then find it's 7:15 and you're starving and all you have in the fridge are little bits of leftover ingredients?

Beans and greens to the rescue!

My friends, you do not need a recipe for this. The ingredients are:

polenta (from whatever recipe you like best)

greens (any kind)
garlic, slivered or finely chopped
pepper flakes
salt and black pepper
beans (any kind)
olive oil

Heat a little olive oil in a skillet, and when it's hot, add the garlic and pepper flakes. Cook for just a few seconds, until the garlic is fragrant; then add the greens and continue cooking until they are beginning to wilt (for salad-type greens, this will be seconds; for kale it could be minutes; I used gai lan). Add the beans and gently stir. Continue to cook just until the beans are warm. Add salt and pepper to taste, and spoon over the polenta. Supper in 10 minutes (the polenta can cook while you're editing your super-macro photos and really doesn't need to be stirred as constantly as most recipes would have you believe, of which the above image is living proof).

Little teeny tiny things

This is a single aphid (if it is an aphid; I don't see cornicles) on a tiny Lady's mantle flower—the flower can't be more than 5 mm in diameter. Yes, my new lens has arrived! It's a Raynox DCR-250 Super Macro Conversion Lens which does (as advertised) snap on to my Canon PowerShot SX10 IS camera. Today was very hot, bright and breezy, so the plants were waving around a bit and the bugs were in high gear themselves, but I had to take it out for a spin. I don't even really know how to use it yet, so I set up shop in a few sheltered areas of the yard and waited, and clicked clicked clicked. Crikey! It's just like they say: this lens adds additional superpowers to the camera, but it's really hard to get the focus right.

Here are some ants on my favourite spirea aphid colony. These are regular black ants, not some kind of enormous mutants. A single one (note the drop of honeydew shining in the sun opposite the ant):

Then there was some kind of dustup, and some of the ants got excited and started squabbling over the best aphids:

Check out the resolution on the upper ant's jaw:

Then this little fella (covered with pollen) went on a journey from one sempervivum flower to another:

And check out the astounding detail on the flower itself:

It literally brought tears to my eyes...this is turning out to be the best hobby ever!