Monday, December 31, 2012


Life is about relationships.

Relationships to people, to objects, to the environment, to food, animals, plants, the weather, etc, etc, etc.  Many would also argue it's about a relationship with divinity and other spiritual entities.  But it all comes down to the same basic sentence: Life is about relationships.

As a society, we are becoming increasingly severed from our relationships.  Most of us no longer have a relationship with the people at the drug store.  Many of us do not have a relationship with the farmer who grew the food on our table.  Even if we do, many of us don't have a relationship with the soil in which that food was grown.  We lack relationships to the majority of animals that we eat and also many of the animals that we encounter on a daily basis.  We have increasingly become a society that values material objects and the abstract concept of monetary wealth over all other relationships, and we have lost many of these relationships as a result.

Yet, there are movements to regain those relationships.  Those wishing to "Save the Environment" are really advocating for a recognition and rekindling of that particular relationship.  Farmer's market crowds frequent the market in order to support more environmentally conscious farming practices, to develop a relationship with the farmer who grew and/or processed their food, to develop a closer relationship to the food itself, to support local businesses, and to buy healthier food in an attempt to improve the relationship they have with their own bodies.  There are also other reasons, but these are probably the largest ones.  If you notice, each of them has to do with rekindling and strengthening relationships between people and other, non-monetary things.

Humans are social creatures.  We require other humans to survive.  We need people to talk to, to laugh with, to tease.  We need other people to be proud of us, to encourage us.  We need people to be proud of and to encourage.  And we need people to catch us when we fall.

Which is why humans as a species can never completely lose these relationships.  We require them.  If we lose our relationships, we lose ourselves.  There will always be people who have lost sight of these relationships, who are blinded in their quest for material wealth or monetary gain.  There will also always be people who retreat into the mountains of the world, isolating themselves so they may become one with nature.  They, too, are blinded in their quest for a strong relationship to the environment.

But many of us recognize that it is better, when considering these relationships, to act in the generalist way that our species always has.  To concentrate on equally strengthening all our relationships rather than focusing on one or two.  We may not have as strong a connection to the environment as those who put all their energies into that relationship, and we may not have as much material wealth as those who concentrate solely on that realm.  But we will have good relationships with all things, and be equally conscious of problems in all areas when they arise.  We will have a wide array of relationships to draw on when we ourselves are in trouble, and if one relationship fails, we will have the rest of the web to hold us up.  We will experience much and, in doing so, realize that we know very little.  We will laugh, cry, joke, muse, and stand in awe.  And at the end of it all, we will say we had a full life.

A life made full by our relationships.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Indonesian Recipes!

Ok, so I've been awful about my food posts, as I'm awful about posting in general (sorry, grad school does that), but as a reward for sticking it out with me, I'm going to post THE BEST Indonesian recipe EVER. Well, ok, that's a bit of a lie, so here are my three favorite recipes (i.e. THE BEST RECIPES EVER).

3. Nasi Goreng (Indonesian Fried Rice) (this makes 2 servings)

  • 3 handfuls of rice (really, two handfuls and a little extra)
  • canola or vegetable oil
  • 10 grape tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • a little less than half a yellow onion (roughly 1/2 cup, chopped?)
  • garlic
  • crushed red pepper flakes (or chili peppers if you have them)
  • any meat product you may want to include (chicken works, shrimp works, beef is ok)
  • salt
  • soy sauce
  1. Set the rice cooking (I shouldn't have to explain this).
  2. Beat the eggs in a bowl. Add salt. In a medium-sized skillet/pan (a wok is even better), pour some oil and fry the eggs into a flat sort of omelet (or egg-pancake). Remove the eggs and place on a cutting board.
  3. Now wait until the rice is done. You can do your chopping now: chop onion and any meat you want. Roll up the egg pancake thing and slice it, creating long strips of egg about 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide.
  4. Once the rice is done, remove it form the heat (even the hot burner - you don't want your rice sticking to the pot).
  5. In the pan, pour some more oil and add garlic (however much you want - I usually go with what looks to be about 1 tablespoon of the dried minced stuff). Also add some salt and about 4-5 shakes of crushed red pepper flakes. For chilies, add as many as you think sufficient (sorry, I don't really work with chilies).
  6. Saute all that until it starts to sizzle (you should be working on a medium heat). Add the onion and stir until it smells really good. Add any other vegetables or meat products you feel like and continue to saute/stir fry everything. Then add the egg and a decent amount of soy sauce and fry for a few more seconds.
  7. Add the rice and stir everything together, mixing it well. The rice is supposed to turn a uniform brown, and if it hasn't, add more soy sauce. Add the tomatoes and fry for a few more seconds.
  8. If you want to add some Indonesian flair, add some sambal to the mix. Sambal is a chili sauce that is ubiquitous in Indonesia, and adds spice and color to everything.
  9. Enjoy!
2. Gado-Gado (meaning "mixed together")

I'm sure most of you didn't think I had a meal I enjoyed more than nasi goreng, but I actually do. Here it is: Gado Gado

  • rice (same as above, about 3 medium handfuls feeds 2 people)
  • bean sprouts
  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • cabbage
  • 2 eggs
  • peanut sauce (Indonesian style, not Thai style)
  • vegetable or canola oil
  • soy sauce
  1. Cook the rice and hard-boil the two eggs.
  2. Chop up cabbage into thin strips, the eggs into slices, and the tofu and tempeh into medium cubes (about 1/2 inch thick).
  3. Put some oil and soy sauce in a pan, then saute the tofu and tempeh until golden brown.
  4. Serve everything by putting rice in a small bowl and then turning it upside-down on a plate - it should retain the bowl shape and looks cool (it's also really fun). Put egg, bean sprouts, cabbage, and the tempeh/tofu mixture on various sides of the rice, then pour peanut sauce over it.
  5. That's it. Really.

1. Tempeh Penyet

And now my favorite Indonesian meal, which is a hard status to achieve: Tempeh Penyet. It's also the simplest of the meals.

  • 3 tablespoons sambal (you can find it in most grocery stores)
  • tempeh (cut into triangles, because that's the way the place I loved did it)
  • oil
  • rice
  1. Set rice cooking.
  2. Take some plastic wrap, put some sambal on it, place the tempeh on the sambal, put more sambal on the tempeh, and fold more plastic wrap over that. Press or pound the tempeh to work the sambal into it.
  3. Once done, take the tempeh out of the plastic wrap, put oil in a pan, and fry the tempeh until golden-brown and crispy.
  4. Serve with the rice!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Who are you wearing?

That's right, who? It's not a typo, and it's not a trick question. Look at your socks. Are you wearing socks? If not, look at your shirt. Where are they from? Your socks (or shirt, for you sockless people), that is. Do you know? I don't. Mine don't say.

What color are they? Mine are kind of boring today - tan. Yup, that's it, tan.

Where did you buy them? I think I got mine at Walmart... maybe Target... not sure. Do you know who sold them to you? I don't. I know someone did. And someone opened the box, someone took them out, someone put a price tag on, and someone stuck them on the shelf.

Before they got to Walmart, someone drove them there in a truck. And before that, they were shipped in a boat or plane or train that someone captained or piloted or conducted. Or many someones helped with that. Or maybe it went on a plane, a train, and a boat. The box of socks, that is.

And before they got on that boat, someone else (probably not in the US) drove them from the factory to the boat/plane/train. Someone at the factory put the package of socks into a box, someone packaged the socks, and someone made the socks. Maybe a machine made them, but a person still ran the machine. Maybe multiple machines with multiple people made my socks. Who knows?

And before that, someone dyed the yarn they used to make my socks and someone spun the yarn. Someone carded cotton and someone washed it. Someone brought it in baskets or boxes or bags to the factory and someone put it into those baskets, boxes, or bags. Someone sorted through the cotton to make sure it was of a decent quality and someone picked that cotton. Someone watered that cotton, weeded it, and kept it relatively bug-free. Someone planted the seed to make it grow, and someone tilled the soil for the cotton field. And someone sold the seed to the farmer and someone else sold the seed to the merchant.

And suddenly it's not about socks anymore.

It's about the 25-30 people who made my socks and got them here so I could buy and wear them.

I wonder how many of them have socks? How many can afford socks?

And that's not everyone involved. There's all the materials used in making my socks - from the plow that tilled the land to the factory that made the plastic bags at the checkout counter. All those have similar stories - similar groups of people behind them.

There are probably hundreds of people involved in making my socks. Your socks.

And those are just my socks. Who knew they could have that much importance? And to think - I throw them on the floor every night before I go to bed, because I don't own a laundry basket. Admit it - you do too. Maybe not the floor, but you throw them into the laundry basket. You drop them and step on them (hey, they were MADE for stepping) and get them muddy and wear holes in the soles.

And when that hole gets a little bigger, you throw out those socks.

Don't worry - I do it, too.

But would you do that if you knew the hundreds of people who helped you get your socks? Would you treat them that way? Be honest. But would I do it if I could see the people behind my socks? We both know the answer to that.

So I'll ask again. Who are you wearing?

Food Post!

Ok, sorry, I've been lax, but the good news is that because I've been lax, you now get a bunch of fun food things in ONE POST!!! Hopefully that doesn't mean an overdose - I don't think it's possible to overdose on food posts. Is it?

Anyway, this week was long, so there weren't as many recipes from the cookbook as recipes from myself. This week was recipes learned from various people at various points in my life, so here's to you people, wherever you may be!

On Thursday I made mac and cheese. I learned this recipe from my mom at goodness knows what age. I was old enough to cook with supervision, but i honestly don't know when I learned it. I fell like I always have. Anyway, Thursday was the day Chicago got about 4-5 inches of snow and I was out in it. It was a comfort food day, and mac and cheese fit that bill.

I know a bunch of people who bake mac and cheese, and that's all well and good, but honestly, this is the real way to make it. Well, it's the way I know and love, so give it a try - it's easier, and you may just like it. Put the pasta on to boil. While that's going, make a roux. It's equal parts butter and flour (I use 3 tbsp) and half that in cups of milk (I use 1 1/2 cups - see how that works?). Put the butter in a pot and heat until it's melted (try not to burn it). Add the flour and mix it in well (you get a grainy buttery substance). Add the milk SLOWLY, mixing it in well. Then let that heat (stirring occasionally) while you cut up some cheddar or other type of cheese (I use about half of one of the small blocks from the store - maybe a cup?). When the milk begins to bubble, add the cheese and stir until the cheese has melted. If it's too soupy, add more cheese. If too thick, add more milk. Add salt, pepper, oregano, and some crushed red pepper (if you want). mix it all together and wait until the mixture starts to bubble. Then add the pasta and viola, you have mac and cheese. Takes however long you need to cook the pasta. Easy, fast, and yummy - what more could you want?

Ok, Friday, I made broccoli Roman style to go with rice and a tempeh/spinach mixture. Rice was rice - you make it and eat it, there's not much to it. Roman style broccoli is different. You put some olive oil in a pan (enough to cover the bottom, maybe more), then add salt and garlic. once it's hot, add the broccoli and stir so that the oil coats the brocolli. Stir it occasionally until the broccoli looks cooked (bright green, starting to turn brown). Add some lemon juice and serve!

My Inang (mother) in Indonesia taught me the tempeh recipe. We used to have a cooking class at my house, because Inang is a nationally-renown chef, and she taught us this recipe. Tempeh (for those who don't know) is a soy product that comes in bricks and looks like soy beans in soy paste. It's solid (don't worry, not icky), and you can chop it up and fry it, back it, or whatever. It has WAY more protein than tofu, so I'm told (I could be wrong) and tastes WAY better in my opinion. Not that I don't like tofu, I just love tempeh. You can probably find it at your local grocery store (most carry it near tofu). Whole Foods often has it - that's where we get it up here. For this, you cut the tempeh into small chunks, pour enough oil (canola, vegetable, whatever) in a pan to cover the bottom and then some, and then fry the tempeh. Stir the tempeh occasionally (so each side gets browned) until it turns a golden-brown color and starts getting crispy. Add some salt and soy sauce and mix it together. Add some garlic and about two handfuls of raw spinach. Stir it all around until the spinach has cooked down and it's mixed together. Serve it with rice (don't forget the Roman broccoli!) and enjoy!

And the last recipe was one I picked up in Canton during the summer I was interning on a farm and the internship suddenly fell through. I was crashing temporarily with some friends in the townhouses (I don't think the administration knew... oops) and we often made pizza. So here's a recipe for fresh pizza dough: Take 1 1/2 cups of flour (for 2 personal pizzas), 1 tbsp instant yeast, 1 tbsp salt, 1 1/1 tbsp olive oil, and 1 1/4 cup water. Mix it all together (really). The dough should be slightly sticky, but not all over the place, and should form a ball when you're done. If it's too sticky, add flour. If too dry, add water. once done, put oil in a bowl, put the dough in the bowl and turn it so it gets covered with the oil, and let it rise until it doubles in size (about an hour). Roll into crusts, decorate, bake at 450-500 degrees until the crust browns, and serve!

So there you go - not so much cookbook recipes, but still good recipes!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hi, I'm Heather, and I support our President.

So, I know - I never posted about the ravioli - I'm terribly sorry. The recipe was super easy once the pasta was made - stuffing consisted of cheese, spinach (already cooked and chopped), and some garlic. Mix it all together, put little blobs on the pasta sheets, wet the area between each blob, then press the other pasta sheet on top and cut the ravioli out. Boil for roughly 5 minutes, add sauce, and you're golden! If any of you want the actual recipe, let me know and I'll stick it in a comment.

Between last week's cooking and right now, I also did something utterly amazing. I saw President Obama speak. In person. Like, I was in a room, he was in the same room (on a stage, maybe 50 feet away), and I listened as he kicked off his 2012 Presidential campaign. I have it all on my phone - recorded the whole thing. One of these days, I'll post it up here somehow. It was wonderful.

And I would write more about it, but it was so crazy that I was even there that I still haven't quite wrapped my head around it. I will say that I support our President. I certainly support him over the other current choices, and let's face it - I've spent most of my life NOT having faith in my president. Why would I deny it when I finally did support one?

Not that I don't take issue with some of the things he's done. I do. But no one is going to please me all the time. No one's going to please anyone all the time. How could they? Goodness, could you imagine the pressure? I can't even please everyone in my department all the time - forget about the entire country. So why should we expect him to please us all the time? He can't. Not if he's to represent the views of the American people. And personally, I think he's done a better job than past administrations and currently think he'll do a better job than others. And that makes him good enough for me. So yes, I'll say it - I support our President.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pasta, Cheese, and more Pasta!

Ok, so we're on day 3 of my New Years Resolutions (I got started on them a couple days late...) and I apologize for not posting yesterday, but the good news is that I now have lots to post about today!

So, yesterday I made a dish called Pasta and Caramelized Onions. Guess what it was? Yea, the titles in this cookbook are VERY straightforward, which is a good thing, because then you can know what you're making just by looking at the title. Anyway, basically, it was carmelized onions with pasta, olive oil, and some parmesan cheese. It was delicious (though, admittedly, not as utterly amazing as the salad from the other day). I'll post all the recipes at the bottom of the page, in case you're interested.

Yesterday for dinner, Kristin and I decided to go out because we both received Christmas gifts for dinner and a movie - so we went to the Cheesecake factory and watched Sherlock Holmes. Side note here - I get that it was a Wednesday and that the movie had been out for several weeks, but there were only about 15 people in the theater. In Chicago. We were surprised, to say the least.

So the cooking began again today (because I have no classes and am bored) with some homemade pasta (amazing, right?). Actually, it was homemade HERB pasta (even snazzier). I will admit, it took much longer than originally planned due to the rolling (we don't own a pasta machine), but it made enough pasta for both lunch and dinner. And it has parsley in it, so I'm quite proud of it. I will say, though, that this is a much more drawn out process than the cheese, and may not be as worth it, time-wise.

So for lunch, I made some linguine-type pasta from our homemade pasta (recipe at the end of the post), sauteed some spinach and onions, added some peas and tomato sauce, and melted in some of the cheese I made two days ago. This recipe really wasn't a recipe, it was more of me looking in the fridge and thinking "hmm, what could I throw in here to make it yummy?". So I won't stick it at the end, largely because I think you all can figure it out.

And then tonight (I think, maybe tomorrow) is going to be ravioli, made again from the same pasta I made this morning/afternoon. I left two rectangular pieces large enough to make at least eight ravioli, probably more (we'll see), so that's going to be tonight. I was thinking of a spinach-cheese ravioli, using up what's left of the cheese from the other day (it only lasts a few days, so I need to use it up) and some of the spinach (which also seems to go bad rather quickly). We'll see how that goes, and I'll let you know!

Oh, and I also made MORE cheese today (because I had half an hour to kill while the pasta dough rested and wanted to show Kristin how to do it), but this time I added crushed red pepper, so it's almost a pepperjack sort of cheese! I tasted some before putting it in the fridge, and it is definitely on the spicy side, but very, very good!

So here are the recipes for the pasta and caramelized onions and the homemade pasta:

Pasta and Caramelized Onions

pasta (~ 1-1.5 handfuls per person)
about 1/3 of a sweet (yellow) onion
extra virgin olive oil
parmesan cheese

1. Slice onion into thin slices and put into a covered, medium skillet on medium-low heat. Stir every so often to make sure they don't stick to the pan.
2. Once the onions begin to turn brown, start the pasta boiling. Remove the cover on the onions and add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan, but not the onions, and stir the onions fairly continuously.
3. When the onions are uniformly brown (adding more olive oil if need be, but not overdoing it), drain and add the pasta. Add enough olive oil (if needed) to lightly coat the pasta, then add the garlic and parmesan.
4. Serve with some parmesan on the side, and enjoy!

Homemade Herb Pasta

2 cups flour (all-purpose or wheat)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp parsley, basil, or other herb
3 eggs
*about 1/4 cup extra water

1. Put the flour, salt, and herbs in a pile on the table or counter (or use a cutting board or bowl, but the table is WAY more fun). Mix them thoroughly (Note: you are perfectly allowed to use a food processor, in which case put them in the thing and pulse it a few times).
2. Make a mound of the dry ingredients (away from the edges of the table, to avoid potential spills) and create an impression (like the crater of a volcano. That's right - make a pasta volcano). Crack the three eggs into the depression (Note: if using a food processor, simply add the eggs to it, rather than getting stuff all over the table).
3. Beat the eggs while slowly incorporating the flour until it forms a ball (preliminary use of a fork might be helpful, but really, this is a hands-on job). *Add water a little at a time if needed (I think that using a food processor avoids this issue, but the dough seemed very dry to me when I did it by hand - similar to my bread issue from yesterday) If using a processor, just beat the mixture together until it forms a firm ball of dough - you shouldn't need the extra water.
4. Knead the dough, then let it rest for about half an hour (now you know why I had half an hour to kill).
5. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface and continue rolling until it is roughly 1-2mm thick. Thinner is probably better, but I was having trouble getting it much thinner by hand alone. If you have a pasta roller, use that to get the desired thickness.
6. Cut the pasta to the desired shape (ravioli works for this, as does linguine. I'm sure others do as well, I just haven't tried them yet). You can let the pasta dry, use it immediately, or store it in the fridge for use in the next few days. I suppose you could also technically freeze it, though I've never felt like doing that.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Homemade Cheese and New Years Resolutions

So, I've been lax in the blogging, mostly because I don't have time, and also mostly because I didn't have anything interesting to write about. Then again, perhaps what seems boring to me would actually be interesting to those who follow this (or used to follow it)... but I still feel that in the end, it's fairly boring.

Anyway, my apologies for the boring-ness, but I now have a new fun thing to talk about on my blog! (yay!) It being a new year and the time for resolutions, I have decided to make some myself. Generally, they all fall under the category of "live a healthier life", and so far there are only two, but hey, it's a start, right?

Anyway, so resolution number 1: get in shape. I'm not fat, but I'm certainly not in shape either, and I feel that if I could get in shape, I would feel better about myself and the world in general. And being that over the summers I engage in hard manual labor, it would be nice to be in shape for when those jobs come round. I am not a fan of sports, though, or activity, really (well, anything that involves running is a bit tedious to me). In fact, the only sort of physical activity I truly enjoy is contra dancing, but you can't really do that on your own. There are contra dances here in Chicago, and I do hope to go to at least one, but I needed something more practical, but equally disguised as physical activity. And so yoga popped into my brain. Not that yoga isn't physical activity - it is. That's the point. But my brain doesn't recognize it as physical activity (largely because there's no running), and that's what makes it great. So I can get the physical activity I need without it being an odious task like going to the gym or running a mile or three. So I went out today and bought myself a yoga mat (it's very pretty, has a tree on it). We'll see if I can keep it up over the next year (or more).

Resolution number 2: eat better. This comes mostly from me being a graduate student with little to no time and eating meals with little to no nutritional value. I'm eating better than I was last year (which is good), but I'm still not doing well on a food scale. SO (and this is the main point of this post) I am going to be cooking recipes from one of my cookbooks (How to Cook Everything Vegetarian) at least three times a week. The goal is to eat healthier while also learning a bunch of new, fun recipes. I will then post about them here, on my blog (because it's interesting, and much of my life isn't so much) and tell you about the wonders I create as well as the things I royally messed up (or burned, destroyed, etc).

This first post is to talk about what I have already made (because it's so easy I almost can't believe it worked). For lunch, I made a spinach-grape-pine nut-parmesan salad with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. It took literally two minutes, and much of that was me trying to find not rotten grapes (I am NOT happy with the grocery store here - no fresh grapes, no fresh tomatoes, no fresh spinach, and their ad campaign claims that all their produce is fresh! Ahem!). Anyway, the salad was great, took absolutely zero cooking skill, and is now something I will probably make quite often.

I also decided to make bread, but to make extra dough so that when I want to make more, it just has to rise and bake. So I used a simple french bread recipe in my cookbook that worked well (though I think the flour to water ratio was a bit off...).

But the crowning glory of my day today (and largely why I'm writing this now) is that I made cheese. That's right, you heard me: cheese! And in roughly an hour! Turns out that all you need is milk, buttermilk, and some salt (two parts milk, one part buttermilk, a pinch of salt) and you get cheese!

So here's the recipe, in case you're curious (it's great, and you can flavor it any way you want, and it's probably cheaper. Even if it isn't, who cares? It's fresh and HOMEMADE cheese!).

This makes 1 pound of cheese (I halved the recipe when I made it because Iw asn't sure it would work, but I assure you - it does):

1 half gallon milk
1 quart buttermilk
1 pinch salt (optional)

1. Heat the milk on medium-high heat, stirring enough so it doesn't scald.
2. When it bubbles up the sides (about 10 minutes), add the buttermilk all at once and stir constantly until you get curds and whey. It looks like egg whites floating in a yellowy liquid. Add the salt if you want (I forgot to, and mine came out great anyway).
3. Remove from heat and add any flavorings you might want (herbs, spices, etc).
4. Line a colander/strainer with a cheesecloth (or muslin or really, a cotton bandanna worked for me) and pour everything into the cloth. The curds will remain in the cloth while the whey drains out.
5. Gather the corners of your cloth and start twisting the cloth so that the curds form a ball. Careful, it's hot! Rinse it under cold water if you need to. Keep twisting and squeezing out the water until the ball becomes firm.
6. Tie the top of the ball tightly with some string, yarn, twine, or whatever. then tie the other end so that the ball is suspended over the sink (you can tie it to the faucet - works fine). Let it cool and set for about an hour (basically until you think you can unwrap the ball without it losing its shape). Then it's ready to serve! It can stay good in the fridge for up to 3 days, and you can freeze it for longer.

And I must say, as I sit here and eat a baguette that I made with my homemade cheese - it's definitely a recipe you all should try.