Friday, February 19, 2016

Pliny and the Elders

Let's get a few things straight before I start.

I am not a liar.
I am not a flirt.
I am not a cheater.

OK, now that we have that out of the way, I'll say this:

I smile at strangers.
I'm a bit on the chatty side.
I laugh a lot, sort of loud, and sometimes at inappropriate times. 

This week I got a call and let the answering machine pick it up. A man with a strong accent was calling, saying he was from _______ Market and he was calling for a certain Ernie...

My first thought was that this was the man from the market down the street, The Guy from Nepal. My sister and I met him when she was here, and we've had some contact here and there. Nice guy, strong accent, works at a market, leaving a message, The Guy from Nepal was calling, so I picked it up.

No, it was a different guy, different market, different accent. Mr. Different Market Guy was calling to say that my husband's order of Pliny the Elder came in and he could come and pick it up. I explained that my husband was attending a school all week and may not be able to come in immediately. But right away I knew that was a mistake, because when ______ Market calls to say they have Pliny the Elder, you drop whatever you are doing, get yourself in your vehicle and race to go pick up this most coveted of beers. Personally, I don't know what all the fuss is about, but Ernst and his co-worker Jeff and some of their buddies just love the stuff. 

I was busy and had to work that afternoon, so was not so much in the mood for a beer run. I called Jeff's wife Myra and told her that ______ Market had Pliny and did she feel like picking up some. She went while on errands, and Mr. Market Guy asked her who she was picking up the beer for. Apparently there is a list and if your name is not on Zee List - no beer for you. She said my husband's name, and he sold her two bottles. This beer is not sold in six packs. It's sold in single bottles. They keep it in the back. They don't just sell it to anybody. You must be on Zee List. Myra dropped one bottle off for us. We were two proud wives, excited to show off to our husbands the prized beer we scored for them. 

Then I got an idea. What if I just drove over to ______ Market to see if I could get some more? Like a Pliny Pig. A Beer Hog. The World's Best Wife Ever. Not having any plan of action whatsoever, I just waltzed in the place, cash in my wallet. 

Mr. Market Guy was on the phone, so I smiled at him and smiled at the man in line. The elderly man in line. And I stood there and waited. Older Man started up a conversation. 

"You have such pretty colored hair."
(Gulp) "Thanks."
"Do you color it?"
On the not too exhaustive list of questions a strange man can ask a woman - Do you color your hair? is not on the list. No, stay away from hair color questions guys, don't go there.
"Yes, I do."
"You know, it's so nice to see a woman who smiles. Just this morning I let someone into my lane, and she didn't even smile or wave. It sure is so nice to see a smiling woman."
Oh, if I could just take back that smile, I thought, I think an old man is flirting with me.
"Yep, I agree, there is a definite lack of human kindness in this world, we should all be nicer to each other." I told the stranger with the hair color questions.
So then he brought out his best line ever:
"What is the name of that hair color?"

I laughed too loud, and inappropriately, and was just about to tell him Medium Chestnut Brown that actually went a bit too red on me - because I am super chatty with strangers, when Mr. Market Guy got off the phone. Whew, on to my mission. Scoring some Pliny.

"So I hear you've got Pliny the Elder? Could I have a few bottles?"
"Are you on Zee List?"

Gulp. Oh man, now what? I had no idea this was so serious. Suddenly I'm stuck in an episode of Seinfeld, with a combo plot of the Soup Nazi, Hop Sing from the Chinese restaurant and the store with the good peaches. What do I do? 

So I smiled real nice and gave him the name of my husband. But immediately I was busted. He said another lady had come in, using that same name. Zee List did not lie. He kept staring at Zee List and shaking his head and talking about the other lady.

This was bad. This could really mess up our reputation at _____ Market. The smile hadn't worked, What do I do now?

Rambling. That is my next go-to tactic when smiling hasn't worked. I rambled on and on how Myra's husband and my husband are teachers who work together and they really love Pliny the Elder and what is really funny is that my husband (the nice man on Zee List) is in something called Elder School this week (Get it, Pliny the Elder School?) and it would be so nice if I could surprise him with this special beer and by the way we are in a Romanian congregation and Jeff is an elder too but he is in Chinese and I sure would be happy to get that beer and...

Shut. Up. Jessica.

But by now the Hair Color Man was chiming in about how nice I am, and it sure is nice to meet nice people. Mr. Market Guy was glaring at me. He kept looking at Zee List, and looking at me and trying to process it all. He went and got the beer. He looked at Zee List. He took my money. Then I asked if Myra could just be added to the few, the proud, the Pliny Purchasers. He wrote down her name, said we would get the call next time, but no more breaking the rules. I thanked him, shook his hand and immediately got worried that he was from a culture where smiling chatty women wearing Medium Chestnut Brown hair don't shake hands with strange men. 

I was almost out of the store, thanking Mr. Market Guy profusely, waving goodbye to the Older Flirt - but we were not done. He looked one more time at Zee List. He asked me if I had a picture of my husband. Gulp. I hoped I could find a super respectable photo of my husband on my phone that would get us back in his good graces.  My phone at that very moment lost all power, so no photo for you, Market Man.

Time will only tell if we've been crossed off Zee List forever. If so, there'll be no phone call from ______ Market. No Pliny. No beer for us. Gulp.

It would be easier to just drive to the brewery. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

When Buffaloes Fly

I can't remember what I was searching for. I can't recall if it was on Pinterest or Twitter or YouTube or plain old Google. I do know I didn't type in the search words "cauliflower" or "vegan" or "Buffalo" or "wings" or "Super Bowl Snacks for People Who Live on Tree Bark."

But somehow I stumbled across a grand thing. A thing of wonder. A vegan treat for carnivores. A carnivorous treat for vegans. We discovered Cauliflower Hot Wings.

Back between my 20 or so years of being a vegetarian and my current status of being vegan, hot wings became one of my favorite things to order at restaurants. Not as an appetizer, those things will ruin your appetite - I would order the wings as my entree. I loved the spiciness cooled by the Ranch dressing. I loved the pieces of celery that made me feel better about all that chicken. And I loved the fact that my husband wouldn't steal any of them. Because as much as he loved meat, and he loved meat, he hated "gnawing on bones" as he would put it. He didn't want to be reminded that meat came from animals, and the bones are pretty much a dead giveaway on that front.

Enter complete veganism for a few years now. No meat, and no bones about it. No hot wings, no cold wings, no buffaloes roaming in our home. Until this recipe literally flew into my laptop. 

Vegan Buffalo Wings

1 head cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegan milk
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 dash hot sauce

1/2 cup hot sauce
1/2 cup ketchup 

Heat oven to 350. Cover baking sheet with parchment paper or non-sticking option of your choice. Combine water, milk, flour and spices to make a thick batter. Dip cauliflower in generously and place on baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, turning halfway through.

Combine ketchup and hot sauce. Dip baked cauliflower pieces in the sauce and put back on the baking sheet. Cook for another 20 minutes or so until they become all yummy looking. Then chop up another cauliflower and start again because your first batch will be gone in no time. 

Something happens to that lowly cauliflower in the process. It must just love all the attention of getting double dipped, because it magically transforms itself into something that is no longer a cruciferous vegetable. How can I describe it best? To be honest, it tastes a lot like chicken.

So get yourself some garbanzo bean flour...

...whip up some batter...

...make a hot diggity sauce...

...get in your double dippin' groove...

...and make some of these cauliflower hot wings!
(No buffaloes were harmed in the making of this appetizer.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Rising to the occasion

In our quest to keep my husband's arteries free and clear, there have been many (many many) foods we have given up. If it squeals, moos, clucks, gobbles or makes fish faces, we don't eat it. If it looks like dairy, smells like dairy and walks like a hunk of cheese, it's a no go. If it cracks like Humpty Dumpty, we're not buying it. And horror of horrors, we even stay away from extracted fats. Yes, even olive oil, And coconut oil. We eat olives, we eat coconut, we just don't eat the oil apart from the whole food. It's unconventional to say the least, but my husband's health issues are unconventional too, don't even get me started. Oops, I almost forgot the salt, we limit our salt intake. Because when it comes right down to it, the rules of our diet are simple. "If it tastes good, spit it out."

Hence, I'm one of those label lookers, ingredient dissectors, package perusers. The ones in the aisle at Trader Joe's to whom you just want to say "Would you just buy the idiot can of marinara sauce and get out of my way, Lady, how bad can a jar of marina sauce be?" But I ignore you and read on, carefully doing the math, comparing fat calories to total calories, checking the sodium content and examining whether or not someone snuck in something that squeals, moos, clucks, gobbles, makes fish faces or walks like a hunk of cheese. 

One thing Ernst hasn't had to give up is bread. Of course as our diet has morphed into one resembling a chimpanzee's in the wild, I have to stand there and check for fat calories verses total calories and look for that all-important sodium content. "Would you just buy the idiot loaf of bread, Lady..." 

I've never had the desire to bake our own bread, ever. Banana bread yes, zucchini bread of course, but not real honest-to-goodness, flour-on-the-counters, arm-muscles-rippling, make-the-house-smell-wonderful bread. Adding to this lack of bread baking desire, there is the little tiny issue of my wheat issues. As in, eating bread makes me puff up like a muffin high on poppy seeds. It's not like I haven't tried to prove my body wrong, oh have I ever tried. But waking up with muffin top above the neck is not a pretty sight, therefore I do a pretty good job of staying away from bread. Plus all the good sandwiches contain something that squeals, moos, clucks, gobbles, makes fish faces or walks like a hunk of cheese anyway.

Then I read Michael Pollan's book Cooked. His amazing writing style not only convinced me to try making totally-from-scratch sourdough bread, but I was sure that somehow I would be able to handle eating sourdough and not look like a poppy seed addicted muffin face the next morning. He kind of promised. 

So I mixed up some water and flour and set it out in our kitchen And we waited. We went away for the long weekend and I had a neighbor come over and stir the mixture up. It didn't quite go bonkers or anything, but it did start to bubble and smell like socks dipped in beer (that's good) and it increased in volume. I had made sourdough starter!!! The bread part was still to come, but making the starter from scratch is pretty fun in itself. I'm not super good at following instructions, and I didn't quite do the "feeding" right, and it apparently takes some time to develop the "mother" but I called it a success. I decided it was time to make the bread, the magical bread I could eat.

It's got bubbles! It smells bad! 
Next step was to take some and save it in the fridge and feed the mother and let it set out overnight, all fat and happy. We heard a pop in the night. I went to check.

The mother blew her top/

The whole process seemed really scary at this point, and I had a head cold, so I chickened out and stuck the mother back in the fridge with her baby and went back to bed. I got my courage up the next week and tried again. By this time I had seen so many videos on YouTube of how to make sourdough bread, I didn't know who to believe. There are some mighty strong opinions out there in the land of sourdough making. I decided it was just flour and water, how hard can this be, just do it. So I did. The rising part was simply lovely to witness.

Big and fluffy! It rose like a champ.

Hard and dense, it fell like a brick.
But it was bread, and it was sour and had a great taste, so we ate it. I woke up a few hours later with a stomach ache and then woke up again in the morning looking big and fluffy, yet feeling like a brick. So much for sourdough bread for me.

But this story of gluten intolerance has a happy ending. Feeding the mother, keeping her happy, means you end up with lots of extra sourdough mixture, All those bread experts on YouTube kept mentioning that you can use your extra sourdough starter to make pancakes but I was sure they all contained things that oinked and mooed. So I searched for "low oil vegan sourdough pancakes" and this came up from

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Yes, mostly in French and in grams, but a good start(er).

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So I made these. No oinks, no moos, no eggs, no oil.
Not much to look at, but still yummy.

Then I made these beauties. They were delish filled with jam.
Ernst thought they were the best thing since sliced bread.