Blogroll Archive

From 2010 until 2015 I kept a more or less regularly updated blog. Much of it is no longer relevant. Some posts, however, are still worth reading. Especially those featuring recipes. The person who wrote those posts is a different person than the one I am today, but I’m grateful that they got me to where I am now. Sure, I do make my own puff pastry from scratch now, I have more or less mastered the art of tempering chocolate, and I do in fact know how caramel works and that one should employ a sugar thermometer when making it. I’m also a little amazed at how far we’ve come cheese-wise.

Picture of six carrot cupcakes with frosting and decorative slices of carrot, walnut and lemon zest as decoration.

That said: the quiche still works and various incarnations of it are in regular rotation. I use a different tart shell, a different meringue and have fiddled a little with the ratios, but the lemon meringue pie filling is still the best one I’ve ever had. The Great British Bake Off may have taught me a lot over the years, but that carrot cake is now actually a small hit at a local coffee place and the recipe remains largely unchanged. And while the moose may have been a little cross-eyed, they’re still damn cute. So I’m re-uploading the posts and pictures, making sure all the links are working, and I’m updating the recipes to their most recent versions. That way, this website gets a chance to grow up, and everyone still gets Mrs. Humble’s pie but vegan.

The m-word’s coming back in style, apparently!

Voor een Nederlandse vertaling van deze tekst, zie het bericht op de Zus&Zo website.

 

To whom it may concern,

For a while now, I’ve been growing more and more tired of discussing my personal situation with strangers. I am surrounded by people who love, support and understand. So I’m often apprehensive of venturing out into the world where things do not always turn out pretty. It’s not well-suited for someone like my sister, who is perceived to have an intellectual disability and falls somewhere on the neurologically atypical side of the spectrum. That by extension means it is also ill-suited for me, both because our minds sometimes work in the same mysterious ways, and because ensuring her care as well as the comfort of the people we interact with is a concern. I tend to forget society sees her as different when it’s just the two of us. So when I’ve been out of touch for a while or have only hung out in the spots where people already know and accept us, I can forget how shitty (i.e. discriminatory) generally held opinion on disability can be.

The past few years, I’ve been working on not being one of those people who responds with “All lives matter” when clearly the lives in peril are black. Not that I ever was the kind of person to take “All lives matter…” in any way seriously or have ever had the urge to hijack a conversation and utter things like “Not all men…” But we all grow up in a culture with biases and sometimes harmful norms and I internalised those to a certain degree and so they’re part of me even if I don’t want them to be. This means they sometimes come back out. It means that I need to let others hold me accountable for them and hold myself accountable as well. It also involves apologising and owning up and then changing who I am and how I look at things. Point is: I’m trying my very best not to be that person who makes the world unsafe for others. I’m not gonna avoid specific topics or hold my tongue for fear of causing offence by saying something insensitive, because the world will never change for the better if I don’t engage or learn by fucking up. But I’m also trying to be basically decent and not a dick.

I’ve found it helps to be ok with disagreement and to accept that many opposing and contradictory views can be equally valid and true at the same time. To be ok with that multiplicity. To go along with people when they tell you of their experience, and to try and be open when you recount yours. And to try to not forget that subtle and less subtle power structures that shape society and shape us all are also present in these conversations and in our connections with others. But in the end, even with all the inequality and history we’re saddled with, I’d argue that people are people, that all beings are beings of equal worth.

I provide this lengthy preamble in three parts to explain my shock at being on the receiving end of the most bullshitty conversation I’ve had in ages (and that’s saying something). It’s not that I don’t know how people judge our situation. It’s just that I can sometimes forget because my lived experience is so much more positive than the generally held view of that experience in society at large. Or sometimes I’m just at yoga and my thoughts don’t stray far beyond my body and trying to be at peace with it. But to others, my personal situation can be more relevant than it is to me in that moment. Still, I had not expected someone to utter the word “mongoloid” in a conversation with my mum in the changing room. Nor had I expected to then, two weeks later, hear this person complain about the brusque reaction she got as a response to said conversation. A conversation in which she used abusive slurs and expressed views that I can only describe as deeply discriminatory to me and the people I love. So I was naked in a fucking shower and this person wanted to let my mother know that she’d been deeply offended that my mum could have considered her ableist, and how much this had confused and unsettled her. It took me a while to process this second verbal ambush, during which I tried to explain that such a thing as discrimination of people, including people with varying levels of ability, does in fact exist and has been experienced by me also. And then it suddenly struck me that we just got “Not all normatively-abled-people…”d something fierce. With a heavy dose of tone-policing thrown in for kicks.

I did not respond how I would have wanted to, I was caught of balance. Hence this open letter. What I should have responded with was: “Dear intrusive person who started this unwanted conversation in the first place, your taken offence is irrelevant. Firstly: I’m not discussing this with you buttnaked in a changing room and would prefer not to discuss it with you at all. Secondly: I’m not gonna tell you that you’re a nice person who doesn’t discriminate. You did and you stereotyped my mum in the process, which angered her and hurt me. You’ve also said some things about the person closest to me that I’m very glad she won’t able to understand due to her being non-verbal. But I do understand them, and I do think you’re being at least ignorant if not outright ableist. And frankly, it’s not my job to fix that or to educate you, it’s yours. You’re experiencing discomfort and you feel hurt. Maybe it’s time to consider why you feel this way. Why are you so offended? And why do you feel your taken offence is in any way pertinent and worth sharing? What does it matter if I consider you ignorant and ableist when you apparently know you’re not? Why does this resonate strongly with you, so strongly in fact that you’d prefer for me to give you a false apology rather than to investigate the value judgements you have regarding ability? Have you considered that us removing ourselves from a conversation might purely be out of self-preservation? And why does your feeling hurt by that rejection matter more to you than my need for safety and keeping distance from discriminatory remarks?

Also, kindly do not admire me for what you perceive to be my martyrdom as a carer, because that’s just pity dressed up in a nice frock. Especially don’t put that on my mum before basically reducing her to nothing more than pitiable/admirable suffering parent. My parents (both of them!) raised two (two!) kids with equal care and consideration regardless of their perceived abilities. My mum’s been working on the topic of disability for decades, way before my sister or I even existed. So I think you owe her some shutting up and listening to rather than ‘admiration’ for what is basically just loving your kids for the individuals they are. And finally, please, for the love of fuck do a google on what terms haven’t been in use since the 1950’s, because I’m pretty sure “mongoloid” is up there with the n-word. And you, my unwanted and unpleasantly close-minded shower-companion, are not the Kanye West of Down syndrome. I’d suggest that it’s time for some rigorous introspection, but if my previous attempt at explaining the existence of discrimination was unsuccessful, I hold out little hope for that. So at the very least respect my not wanting to talk to you and I’ll try and refrain from pointing out that disabled people, some of whom are my kin, are still actually, you know, people. Apparently you’re shocked that this is a sentiment that needs saying. You’re offended that I think that you’re someone to whom it needs being said. Then again, you confidently started these conversations off with an offensive and outdated slur, so that should have been a clue. Now can I please just go put on my pants in peace.”

I’m just more than tired of having these unwanted intrusions over and over again in the weirdest of places in varying states of undress. I don’t often go looking for this conversation, but here we are. Writing this, at least I’m fully clothed. For ages, I have not spoken out on the topic and my personal connection to it because discussing the ways in which I’m on the receiving rather than the giving end of ignorance can feel rather self-serving. But apparently, we’re not discussing this enough or at all, when the conversation is forced upon me in a shower. So consider this my two cents.

Yours,
Aster

Belated bday reflection part 3: Edible Jurassic Park.

This story comes to you in 3 parts (and I suspect it will get better with each one). All are birthday related. They have been edited in a little bit of time where it seemed the computer would not give out. Anyway, 3 parts: Breakfast, Cake and Edible Dinosaur Landscape.

Part 3: Edible Jurassic-period birthday surprise (a.k.a. the best gift éver).
Picture of mixed salad with tempeh, olives, featuring a mountain of rice shaped like a volcano erupting tomato sauce and a cracker shaped like a brontosaur.

I had not expected any presents this year, because we are all broke and at some point in February my parents had been gracious enough to buy me the fucking expensive waterproof ebook that I am now reading Dune on because I had corroded the butt of the Kindle through frequent use in the bath. I was just really really grateful to have an ebook. But my mum would not be my mum if she did not come up with some outlandish idea that didn’t cost anything more than what was already in the house, but that was on a less pragmatic and purely emotional level about 30.000 times better than an ebook. Like that time she found a discount night light in the shape of a cow and thought that was a bit of a sorry gift so she bought a pair of super-discount pyjamas and I still dream of those pyjamas and wish I had them again. She was somewhat embarrassed to present this as a gift, but I cannot think of a time that I have received a nicer one. Though this one came close.

Picture of mixed salad with tempeh, olives, featuring a mountain of rice shaped like a volcano erupting tomato sauce and a bunch of crackers shaped like dinosaurs in the background.

Yes, there are dinosaur crackers in the shape of a tyrannosaur, stegosaur, brontosaur, spinosaur (no, hadn’t heard of that one before either) and triceratops. And while the brontosaur might now be fictional, I will never stop loving it, if only for that part in the Simpsons where Lisa says “Brontë sisters” and Maggie shows her a picture of a brontosaur and Lisa answers “Oh, Maggie, don’t ever turn two”. But seriously, these picture don’t do it justice. I think this might be even more exciting for 3 year olds, but then it was already very very exciting for me. I was not quite prepared for the full effect of suddenly being surprised with this thoroughly convincing landscape (at least for a non-geologist/archeologist) full of animals/crackers I had, and let’s be fair here, been obsessing over for wééks. It was also really delicious, especially because despite the sheer number of cakes posted here, I am more of a fiend of savoury food.

Picture of mixed salad with tempeh, olives, baked potatoes and crackers shaped like an assortments of dinosaurs.

There were actual mayonnaise puddles, people. Herbed mayonaise puddles. Which crunchy dinosaurs could be dipped into before their sad and untimely extinction. Accompanied by a volcano erupting spicy tomato sauce and red peppers. And lots of arugula. I love arugula. And baked potatoes, which are the best thing I can imagine. There was also some tempeh. I don’t know what else to add. I would suggest anyone just buy some animal cookie cutters and go nuts, be it in cake-form or in giant salad. I don’t think there is a limit to this formula of building landscapes and adding animals. Next year Star Trek cake with actual Enterprises?

Ps. My mum keeps saying that this would be a great way to cater children’s parties, and I disagree: it is also a great way to cater parties for adults.

Kokosyoghurt voor Melk, je kan zonder!

kokosyoghurt

Ingrediënten:

  • 2/3 cup geweekte cashewnoten
  • 800 ml kokosmelk (2 blikjes)
  • 200 ml sojamelk
  • 1/2 tsp guar gum (optioneel)
  • 1/4 cup yoghurt (sojade of van vorige batch)

Blend alles behalve de yoghurt, tot het helemaal romig is. Warm op tot 43 graden (als je geen thermometer hebt: dat voelt lauwwarm). Klop de 1/4 cup yoghurt erdoorheen. Doe in glazen potten met fijne deksel. Ik ben begonnen met sojade omdat daar geen suiker of verdikking in zit. Sindsdien maak ik, als ik de yoghurt in de potten doe, alvast een mini-potje van 1/4 cup dat ik mee laat culturen met de grote potten en de volgende keer gewoon direct door het lauwe kokosmengsel kan roeren. Laat de cultuur 8 uur ontwikkelen in een dehydrator op 43 graden. Dit werkt uitstekend omdat de dehydrator een constante temperatuur heeft die ideaal is voor yoghurt. 

Schommelingen in temperatuur of te hoge of te lage temperatuur, waardoor de goede bacteriën niet groeien, zorgen voor gedoe. Ik vermoed dat de oven kort voorverwarmen, op de laagste stand en dan de yoghurt daarin laten beginnen, ook een optie is, of langer wachten, dus het is even zoeken naar wat er het beste voor je werkt met de spullen die je hebt. Een collega maakt yoghurt met sojamelk in de koelkast, wat een paar dagen kost en dat is misschien handiger als je verder geen stabiele temperatuur buiten de koelkast hebt. Na het culturen kan ie gewoon in de koelkast en is ie hetzelfde als iedere andere yoghurt.

Wil je meer iets kwarkigs, gebruik dan een theelepel guar gom. Geen guar gom? Ik vermoed dat xanthaangom ook zou werken, maar zonder kan ook prima, alleen is het dan meer drinkyoghurt. Het kan nog steeds goed over muesli en fruit en in smoothies en er zitten nog steeds supergezonde bacteriën in! Is ook heel erg lekker met appels, kaneel, rozijnen en een theelepel palmsuiker, net appeltaartyoghurt.

Ps. Dit recept is geïnspireerd op het recept in Miyoko Schinner’s Artisan Vegan Cheese. Er staat ook een yoghurtrecept in haar andere geweldige boek The Homemade Vegan Pantry, en het boterrecept is ook briljant. Ik heb nog geen bladerdeeg ermee gemaakt, maar de boter an sich is veelbelovend. Zie ook het volgende recept voor ‘buffel’ mozzarella.

Belated bday reflection part 2: Cake.

This story comes to you in 3 parts (and I suspect it will get better with each one). All are birthday related. They have been edited in a little bit of time where it seemed the computer would not give out. Anyway, 3 parts: Breakfast, Cake and Edible Dinosaur Landscape.

Part 2: Cake.
I not just bungled my sister’s birthday. I also baked her an enormous cake. One for her, one for me. Hers was without nuts, because we differ of opinion on the topic. I think they add much needed texture, she thinks they ruin whatever they are in. We regularly catch her sneaking raisins out of the muesli, because raisins are great but nuts and oats are crunchy bits of uselessness. So I made her a cake especially. And then she was sick and threw up. Which is sad on any birthday, but especially if your main gifts is a large elaborate Comfort-Food inspired Swartzwalder Kirsch. She did eat a frightening amount two days later when she had recovered.

Picture of a layered schwarzwalder kirsch birthday cake featuring a lot of candles and a 24 in sparklers.

I also can’t seem to get the hang of chocolate curls, which annoys me to no end. One would not expect this cake to be the picture of health. One would be right, but it also isn’t that bad. It is the low-fat bundt from Veganomicon with some cherry puree instead of apple, and the fillings are all from Vegan Pie in the Sky, but in such a way that they are now largely sugar free and sweetened with stevia. People have commented that it tastes not necessarily healthy, but less like a brick on the stomach than the regular Schwartzwalder, so they were not sad about the healthy. A professional baker at the local market, I repeat, a professional baker complimented me on it. He especially liked the cream filling, and he tasted the prototype that had some raspberry pips in there that I thought ruined it. So it must be really good. He had not expected the answer to “what is that cream made of?” to be tofu.

Picture of a purple cracker in the shape of a brontosaur.

In short, all parts of the birthday cake inspired by Jamie Oliver were a smashing hit! And he has a recipe for tofu-mousse as well. I have also added a dinosaur cracker as a preview for the next post because I’m so excited about it.

Belated bday reflection part 1: Breakfast.

This story comes to you in 3 parts (and I suspect it will get better with each one). All are birthday related. They have been edited in a little bit of time where it seemed the computer would not give out. Anyway, 3 parts: Breakfast, Cake and Edible Dinosaur Landscape.

We could today discuss how I am struggling with big questions of life, the universe and everything and am sometimes forced to answer 42 to keep sane, or how while I should delve deeper into the academic theory that is making me ask the questions I may or may not have lost myself a bit in reading Dune. Dune is great! I love Dune. I have just finished God Emperor of Dune and the whole nature-mysticism-futuretelling-sandworm thing (and this picture, which has nothing to do with the book but is always on my mind) is enthralling. I think there might be a lot of inspired use of dramatic irony because of the prescience.

Part 1: Breakfast.
Picture featuring Anemoon and Aster blowing out a bunch of candles on a birthday cake. They're wrapped in a white duvet cover with white polkadots.

Or we can discuss the birthday-breakfast(/dessert) my sister had in February. I don’t think I ever mentioned on this blog that my sister and I were born a day after the other. Not as in twins, but two years after me, she arrived the day before my birthday. We could argue she was a special present, or that specific curse similar to being born close to christmas meaning you’ll never have as cool a birthday as everyone else. We have two days of birthdays, and for some reason that just means it is half the fun. Luckily I don’t give a toss about birthdays, and she is as far as I can tell not capable of grasping the concept of birthday and is just intensely thrilled and pleasantly surprised that people come to her bed and give her her favourite cheesecake and sing to her. Mind you, she’s also super happy that every Saturday morning my mum brings her toast and tea as she watches videos of babies on the iPad, so it is all relative.

Blurry picture of two kittens playing in bunch of confetti on a red and white polka dotted duvet cover.

She’s also impossible to buy gifts for. I have decided that next year I’ll buy her two of her favorite bath sponges, two plastics lobsters and a few glossies for a grand total of 20 euros, because I didn’t, after a very long search of HEMA, manage to make her happy this year. I did scare her with those roll-out party-whistle thingies though, so that wasn’t good. It’s like with balloons (which she now loves but used to hate): I sometimes forget what makes her very happy and what terrifies her. The striped wrapping her gifts came in was actually the best present of all. She did not mind being showered in confetti after we blew out the candles per se, but the only family members I managed to enthuse with it were the kittens. But we look quite cute, unwashed and in the middle of blowing out candles at 7.30 a.m., so I wouldn’t want to deprive you of these pictures.

Kombucha Smoothie Pick-me-up!

Happy New Year! Just a quick one! I found out that if you use kombucha and frozen fruit, you can recreate an ice cream treat I used to get at a local ice cream store years back. I wasn’t a fan of milkshakes back then either, but they did make a thing called a fruitshake, where they blended fizzy water with lots of sorbet. Especially strawberry was good. Last week I was craving ice-creamy dessert and had left-over frozen mango. And so I blended it with some mint and frozen strawberry topped off with kombucha.

Picture of a kombucha smoothie in a mason jar with glass straw and mint garnish against a blue background.

It tastes almost exactly the same (with a vague hint of kombucha-soapy-taste, it’s actually really nice) as the fruitshake and with a little stretch of the imagination, you could call it healthy. But even if it wasn’t, you should go and make this, because of how delicious it is. You do need kombucha for this, but I already gave you all the info you could ever need with that.

Picture of a kombucha smoothie in a mason jar with glass straw and mint garnish against a blue background.

You just add the frozen fruit until the glass is filled and then top off with the kombucha, you can make it in any size container, or directly in your blender. I use the same method for my morning-smoothies. A tiny bit of vanilla, or mint is also quite delicious. I sometimes add some drops of stevia if it isn’t sweet enough.

Thank you Ms. Schinner!

I have made a few recipes from Miyoko Schinner’s Artisan Vegan Cheese by now, with varying degrees of success, and I can honestly say there’s no other vegan cheese book that can hold a candle to it. The Cheesy Vegan has a really nice though somewhat runny silken-tofu-based cream cheese that was gorgeous on bagels with chives, but the cheese I used as pizza topping and the blue cheese were both pretty much revolting. The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook was one of the first vegan cookbooks I ever tried, it was one of the three available in the library, and it put me off veganism for 3 years, until I decided that animal welfare meant more to me then the taste of cheese.

Picture of an open faced mozzarella and basil sandwich on a wooden board against a purplish blue background. Also visible is a potted plant, a chair, and a cat on the chair smelling the sandwich.

One should probably not triple Miyoko Schinner’s recipe for mozzarella, especially not if it is used to make mini-mozarella, resulting in so many tiny mozarella-balls half of one’s fridge is filled with them. Also, making them in those quantities means that it is hard to sufficiently heat the mixture, which results in a more spreadable, less melty mozzarella than something that would be ideal for putting on sticks. If you heat it properly it will become scarily similar in texture to dairy mozzarella (and the taste is indistinguishable regardless). The badly-heated one does make for a spreadable sandwich filling that is absolutely delicious though, and it actually reminded me of fresh goat’s cheese. So “Elk nadeel heb z’n voordeel” (“Every con has its pro”) as our famous Dutch soccer coach Johan Cruijff would say. The cat, as you can see, agreed.

Picture of a mozzarella and basil sandwich on a wooden board against a purplish blue background.

I am still getting the hang on most of the cheese-recipes, culturing things is a tricky business, and I am much better at kefir and kombucha than I am at rejuvelac, yoghurt or cheese. The mozzarella and brie are a happy exception, but most of it is tricky and many is the time that I’ve found moldy cheese, or forgotten about perfectly fine cheese and then have it turn angry and sour on me. One of the things I did manage to tackle in the end though, were rolls of chèvre. I desperately wanted to put those on top of a pizza with Daiya mozzarella, because it is the closest one could even come to my favourite pizza from pre-vegan days. This one, dare I say it, is better, if only because the sauce and dough on my version is actually handmade, proper, garlicky delicious, and not something dropped by a machine on something that’s more cardboard that pizza-crust. Both my own coconut-milk-based cheesy spread and the cashew cheese on top of that are better than the original.

Picture of a mozzarella and basil sandwich on a wooden board against a purplish blue background.

I don’t want to be too negative about other vegan “cheese” books, they might work for you, but both with the Cheezy Vegan and the Uncheese Cookbook, I pretty soon decided that I’d rather not eat any cheese than the things they claim will substitute cheese, maybe with the exception of a tweaked version of tofu feta. And it’s unnecessary to eat bad cheese as a vegan, because there’s lots of creamy sauces and cashew fondue and baked marinated tofu to be had that is not cheese per se, but that is tangy and delicious in its own right. If you are on the fence about Artisan Vegan Cheese, buy the VegNews Cheese Issue and see how it goes. It went amazing for me! Then you can decide if it’s worth buying. The difference between that book and the others is of course the fermentation, because however much nutritional yeast, miso, salt, garlic, lemon juice or vinegar, it just won’t be fermented like cheese, and Miyoko Schinner’s recipes actually are fermented like cheese! And especially with the lighter cheeses, like mozzarella and brie, that culturing adds precisely the right tang. I am currently air-drying a parmesan, so I’ll let you know how that went.

On Laundry and Ice Cream!

First, I’ll give you a recipe. Then I’ll give you some tips. We got the Zoku Shake-maker thing. We already had the popsicle maker, and we like that one a lot! The shake-maker is also rather nifty. I wouldn’t call what it makes granita or shake, it is more of an awkward ice cream, but it is really delicious. It’s not the Magimix Turbine à Glace, but it is better than the motorized 250 euro costing one we had before the Turbine, but that we had to return because it was so loud we heard it when we put it out on the balcony. So that’s not bad for a 15 euro gizmo that works without electricity.

Picture featuring a round container (the zoku shake maker) filled with bright pink raspberry sorbet garnished with two mint leaves and a few chocolate shavings.

Get a cup. Fill it 2/3 with fruit (I used frozen cherries and strawberries), add a splash of agave nectar and a tablespoon of almond butter. Add water until the fruit is covered. Add a handful of mint if desired, and sweeten with stevia to taste. Blend this all up, add to the Zoku together with either a handful of chocolate chips, or some nuts, or cookie crumbs, or toasted coconut flakes. Do the stirring thing. Then put on a movie and enjoy. You can make this as healthy as you’d like. The texture improves remarkably with the added agave, but you can sweeten it the rest of the way with stevia if you’d like. I have done this with my morning smoothie, but the texture is really depressing when you use unsweetened smoothie with chia seeds and kale…

Picture featuring a round container (the zoku shake maker) filled with bright pink raspberry sorbet garnished with two mint leaves and a few chocolate shavings.

Now for a movie-tip: if you like the 80’s, intercultural relationships, skinheads seeing the error of their ways and embracing old “friendships”, a young Daniel Day Lewis (& an equally gorgeous Gordon Warnecke), sex involving bubbly wine, tight jeans and squatters (I happen to have a soft spot for each and every one of those), you should watch My Beautiful Launderette. I think my dad recommended it a few years ago. I won’t say it’s a fun movie, it is a bit strange with a fuckload of dark shit happening in the not-so-fortunate parts of society during Thatcher (or: duh). But I repeat, Daniel Day Lewis, young! With champagne! If you then need a bit of a laugh, because you are both deeply saddened and hugely excited from watching Laundrette, you should read Al Dente by David Winner. Who knew the Ancient Romans were the first designer-water drinkers? It might have not been bottled, but it was branded and hyped up. For real!

Melty Daiya!

I told you about the friend got me Daiya and I may have used it in everything. It turns out I am not a fan of the cheddar slices. But the mozzarella is a lot milder and I don’t think people really notice the difference between this and what’s on regular frozen pizzas. Anyway, it is really good so I put it on everything. I put it on a hummus-pesto-hybrid made from fresh green peas, pine nuts and mint for some fancy open-faced grilled cheese. A little bit of sriracha gave it more of a kick, which I like.

Picture of two open-faced sandwiches with mint-pea spread and melted daiya.

Having had a chance to try Teese, Sheese, aforementioned Cheezly, Tofutti, Violife, Wilmersburger and Daiya, and some tofu-feta-goat-cheese thing from a Berlin health food store that was so good I had three blocks of it in 5 days, I can say that some of those have their use. I recommend you completely ignore the first three. They’ve ruined otherwise perfectly cheeselessly delicious meals. Tofutti slices are doable if inferior, but their cream cheese is perfect, exactly that same fatty, little bit bland, rich weird creamy thing that is regular cream cheese, with not a hint of soybean. Violife is quite similar to what you can get in Dutch supermarkets pre-sliced in packets, and the same goes for Wilmersburger. I especially recommend the latter, also for grilled cheese. Daiya is the only one of those that melts somewhat realistically and the mozzarella is neutral enough to work with anything.

Picture of a bowl of chili topped with shredded daiya.

Right, my initial point of this post was that chili is really tasty with a handful of Daiya, and I made a discovery: they have smoked paprika powder at a store just a short bike ride away. I had been looking for smoked paprika for the longest time and there it suddenly was, next to the cash register. It is the best thing ever to have happened to both chili and BBQ. And sauces. And tomato soups. And salads that need a bit of heat or smoke. And tofu rubs. And baked potato fries. I’ve found the sweet variety there as well, so now I put it in almost everything.

Picture of a bowl of chili with shredded daiya.

As you can see, my mum’s cooking course is really paying off. The structure of our breads has improved drastically. I am learning from a distance, and have now learned to make the best pasta I’ve had in my life so far. Penne all’ arrabbiata is something new, but it’s the kind of spicy even my family enjoys on occasion. And you can make it as spicy and with as much vegetables as you want. It takes a maximum of 20 minutes? 30 if I am very precise and finicky about it. So you should try it. I used a Jamie Oliver recipe (without dead anchovies of course), because his method of cooking is roughly similar to that of the course. You cook your pasta until just south of al dente (for me, with spaghetti that’s probably 5 minutes, 6 with a bigger pasta) and then cook it the rest of the way with a cup of cooking water added to the sauce (takes me 2 minutes usually). It makes for a really nice bite and a sauce that actually sticks to your pasta without clumping or the need for olive oil to prevent said clumping. It’s so simple and so much better that I don’t know why we didn’t start cooking pasta like this years ago! I blame the Dutch and their total lack of pasta-understanding. Or possibly a lack of Italians in my life.

James Tiberius Kirk

I often wonder if I antropomorphise my cats too much. I guess it won’t hurt them if I think of them as tiny furry humans, hell, they probably think of me as a huge relatively clumsy cat. At least that’s what the book suggests. What finally convinced me that we are in essence pretty similar creatures, is Captain James Tiberius Kirk (the original). I am more a TNG and Voyager fan (with a huge Garak-weakness), and you can wake me up for Commander Tucker any time of night.

Picture of a bowl of cherry-banana nice cream against the deck.

I am not so much a fan of TOS because it is difficult not to laugh or fall asleep because of the very lengthy pauses and stage-like over-acting common in the 60’s. But then there’s Kirk (and Nichelle Nichols <3). Don't get me wrong, it is completely logical that Spock became the sex symbol. But I react to Kirk the way my cats react to butterflies. Whatever I’m doing, if there is Kirk, I will become pre-occupied and stare at him transfixed. I can’t say that I start batting at the computer screen, but I cover my mouth with my hands every now and again in overexcitement.

Picture of a bowl of cherry-banana nice cream against the deck with a cat looking at the bowl in the background.

To go with the Kirk and aloof cats, you should probably make banana-sorbet. There’s so many recipes on the internet that you hardly need my extra input, but I should say that I usually add some extra maple syrup to the sour cherries, and have added chocolate chips on occasion. It was really good. It’s not “just like ice cream, yum” (Kristina really gets on my nerves), but it is an excellent snack or even a proper meal when combined with hot cereal. Also, huge coconut flakes are my new favorite thing. Oh, and always add vanilla. It makes the sorbets go from “quite good and fruity” to “what is this ambrosia (sort of)”.

I’ll leave you with something only mildly Star Trek related: Shatner does Common People. Maybe next time we will discuss the ins and outs of Cardassian politics.

Vegan Mashup!

I’ve supported Vegan Mashup twice so far. And right now, I am really loving the second season. No matter how much fun it is to see Miyoko Schinner make “unbirds”, it is even better to watch her feed the chickens, and have Fran Costigan talk about ethical vegan chocolate. She is lovely by the way, and I thought she seemed a bit scary from the picture in the Vegan Chocolate book. Back on topic: you can buy and or rent it on Vimeo On Demand, and I suggest you do. Especially for the second season. And also because it is a good thing to support people making a vegan cooking show.

Kombucha and kefir

Little did I know that when you forget to do something with your kefir for a few days, not only do you end up with lots of kefir grains, but also with cider! This is a welcome surprise (I read something along those lines in the fermenting book, but it also looked like it would take forever), because the last time I made cider, it wasn’t just disgusting, it also exploded all over the living room, the garden, our cats and the neighbours’ dog. Seriously. We had to repaint a part of the ceiling (and clean part of a cat). The kefir is non-explosive and tastes good which is quite a relief. Since the grains are growing like mad, I can also give them to all interested friends. My sister has approved of the kefir, and if she approves of food, you know it’s good.

Picture of a glass of kombucha and a glass of kefir.

The same goes for kombucha. A friend of my dad’s (whom he met at work in Amsterdam), got us a SCOBY and I can’t thank her enough! She gave us two, but now I only have one left because I could’t keep up with the amount of babies it kept producing and the amount of kombucha I had to drink. Kombucha is basically the roller coaster of the lemonade-world. There are no known health-benefits, it is a bit of an unusual activity when you look at it objectively and it is almost completely safe, but a few unlucky people have accidentally died because of it. I am still in very good health after drinking quite a lot of both homemade and store-bought kombucha (and am willing to bet there’s probiotics there and in any case a delicious low-sugar carbonated soda). I can report that home-made tastes a lot better than store-bought. So it has gotten to the point where I serve it to friends, but maybe I will never feel safe enough to serve it to frail old people or pregnant women.

Picture of a glass of kombucha.

Back on the SCOBY: it turns out ours is of noble breading, its grandmother originating at Goldfinch. Which is not only nice to know, it also turns out this is an incredible source of information! I can certainly recommend the True Brews book, and although I have only read it and not tried any recipes yet, I also really like the Delicious Probiotic Drinks book. But the Goldfinch website settled a few issues that my books did not address (“My SCOBY looks a little bit like the elephant man grew a beard, is this normal?”). It is, and the recipe takes a bit longer than the book says, which I noticed, because last time I checked it after 7 days it was still rather sweet. I will update you on the cider, and let me know if you want a SCOBY. Mine is having babies like crazy! I can hardly keep up. Babies come with healthy SCOBY, so I just need do find more friends who aren’t afraid of things that look like a cross between a jellyfish and an illegal organ donation.

Picture of a scoby in a jar covered with cheesecloth.

Ps. I think Welcome to Night Vale had a very applicable sentiment to utter about kombucha. Actually, it was about beauty, but it still applies: “There is a thin semantic line separating weird and beautiful and that line is covered in jellyfish.”

Catering

Friends had a housewarming. And we catered. I only had time to snap some quick iPhone pictures of the sweet stuff, but it looked good! Also, it does give me a chance to review some cookbooks. I used to make the Deluxe Cocoa Brownies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, with extra chocolate chips, but then I tried the Very Fudgy Chocolate Chip Brownies from Fran Costigan’s Vegan Chocolate. They are wonderful, especially if you top them with caramelized walnuts or hazelnuts. It’s a question of wanting a cake-mix-box-type brownie, or something that is mostly melted chocolate with added sugar. Right now I am very into the latter, it’s especially good when you eat it out of the oven, still hot and therefore pudding-consistency. One of the things I hope to master in the near future is tempering chocolate, so maybe we’ll see more of that.

Picture of two baskets with baked goods, one with berry cheesecake topped with pomegranate seeds, one with brownies topped with three caramelised hazelnuts each.

The other cake is actually a different version of the Blueberry Bliss Cheesecake from Vegan Pie in the Sky. When I say different version I mean I kept the whole tofu-banana-base, but went a bit nuts with the berries. Also with the topping. And the leftover pomegranate was too beautiful not to put on top. The cheesecakes from Vegan Pie are perhaps my favorite ever, although there’s a raw strawberry cheesecake, one of the very first raw cakes I ever made, that has a special place in my heart as well. The Raspberry Lime Rickey Cheesecake is actually more my thing than the blueberry one, but the blueberry is easier to adapt to whatever fruit is in your garden or freezer. To come to a conclusion on this topic: Vegan Chocolate is an excellent book and I’d recommend it to anyone who’d like to get into fancy desserts. Or who’d like to get someone else into bed. Just speaking for myself: chocolate is a very good place to start. Vegan food in general, but the partner who’ll bake me Bittersweet Chocolate and Lemon Tartlets is a partner I am keeping. Ok, that’s nonsense, the partner that’s respectful and right for me is the one I am keeping, but I would not say no to tartlets and chocolate ice cream to go with that…

Stuffed Courgette Flowers

Last summer we had courgette flowers, so we stuffed them. With the wonderful VegEZ recipe for herbed tofu cheese ricotta. And then we breaded them in this batter sans sesame seeds, fried them, and it was delicious. I had to share, otherwise I’d have eaten all of the flowers.

Picture of stuffed fried courgette flowers.

I definitely recommend frying. I’ve also seen raw versions, and I’d definitely experiment with different fillings if you have a favorite vegan ricotta or some other creamy stuffing that holds its shape. But the crispy, fatty outer part, just go for it. I wouldn’t say so if I didn’t think it was worth the oil. We don’t have a deep fat fryer, so it takes time, effort to fry stuff, but this time it was very much worth it.

Picture of stuffed fried courgette flowers.

Quicky Dinner: Noodle Bowl.

There’s a few of my go-to recipes so simple that you can hardly call then recipes. I make them quite often, sometimes a few times in a row. They all take a maximum of 20 minutes? Seeing how this is a big part of the cooking I do, I thought I’d share. It’s practically impossible not to like the recipes, because if you don’t like it you can adapt them as much as you like without any chance of failure. For those of you thinking: “But Aster, where are the vegetables in this?”, I’d like to point out that herbs are really good for you and if you feel the need to add broccoli, go right ahead. Coarsely grated carrot is also really nice. Tofu, regrettably, didn’t add anything, and I say that as someone who feels even plain baked tofu with a bit of salt on top is delicious.

Picture of a bowl of noodle soup with green herbs.

I would always add the ginger and garlic, the soup becomes bland without it. Spring onions are really nice, but a small yellow onion works as well. Pea and maize-vermicelli is the best, I got it at the Persian market around the corner. Brown rice vermicelli also works well, but is less chewy. Be sure to check that your noodles don’t have eggs. The recipe is ridiculously straightforward. Fry the onion with the garlic and some grated ginger (along with the optional carrot) in a tiny pan while you cook the vermicelli in another one. Use the water cooker if you’re really impatient (I am). Add some tamari, vegan wochestershire sauce and mirin and let it simmer. When the pasta is done, add that, along with half a bouillon cube (or use stock instead of water). In the meantime I have grated the zest of a lemon and chopped some fresh herbs. Then I add some sriracha sauce, put it in a bowl and add the zest and herbs. Voila, almost instant pan-asian-fusion for one. I prefer mine spicy and very lemony, but you could try the opposite. Roasted sesame oil is good, but not a must.

Bobby!

Remember how Bobby was dying? He was on his last legs. And giving him a little gut-supporting pyjama wasn’t enough. He just didn’t feel as nice, texture was lost. And stuffing sortoff leaked out through the legs. I was having serious anxiety issues about his leaving me. So after weighing all my options (getting over it, finding professional help, learning how to knit), I decided to re-knit him entirely.

Picture of a yellow and red cotton knit teddy bear with two holes in his rump.

I then deconstructed and reconstituted him. It seemed a daunting task, but it turns out the difficulty of knitting round with 4 needles is overrated, as is knitting in general. He hasn’t felt this firm since I was 4. I do have to confess that counting the stitches was arduous, and that the first attempt at knitting his nose was different than expected. But in the end, it wasn’t that impossible. So now he and I will be together forever! Or in any case as long as I will live and am able to re-knit him when things get tough.

Close up picture of the head of a red and yellow cotton knit teddybear without ears and nose.

As you can see Bobby is reclining on top of some very nicely coloured books, cookbooks: Clean Food and Clean Start. And not all that expensive, considering the photographs and invaluable information. They reminded me of Gezond Lekker Eten, but they’re certainly more modern (also some nutritional information has been updated in the last printing). It’s the food I grew up with: healthy, vegan and delicious. The basic how-to-cook-a-pulse-and-why-is-this-vegetable-good-for-me information is all there. I love Veganomicon this is a lot closer to how I normally cook or would like to cook when I cook something other than pasta with veggies and salad and tofu.

Picture of a yellow and red cotton knit teddy bear on a pile of cookbooks.

Baked Alaska

The Recipe: Baked Alaska

Picture of a baked alaska on a white plate against a grey background. It's piped with a star tipped nozzle.

I’m warning you: this post will be rather self-congratulatory. See, I baked an Alaska. The internet usually overhypes the difficulty of recipes, and probably any gimmicky cook with an ounce of self-respect can out-alaska-bake me in a second. However, their alaskans are not vegan. But mine is, and I’ll assure you it’ll work just as good. It’s not that hard, it just takes some patience and some kitchen gadgets.

Picture featuring two baked alaskas on white plates against a grey background. One is piped with a star tipped nozzle, the other round and has a piece cut out that's plated and featured most prominently.

It’s pretty damn straightforward. You just bake brownies from Vegan Cookies, then top with chocolate ice cream. That ice cream in itself was quite the victory: it’s probably the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever eaten. In my life. Even beating a strange chocolate-amaretto flavor I once had in Rome, both vegan an non-vegan store bought and, dare I say, my dad’s home made chocolate ice cream by a mile. Did I mention it’s sugar-free, fiber-rich and full of almondy goodness? I probably shouldn’t have, but if you plan on feigning healthy, you could skip the alaska and go straight for the ice cream.

Picture of a partially melted piece of baked alaska on a white square plate against a grey background.

But this is decadent-dessert-time, not health-food-obsession-time. This’d be the perfect recipe for a formal dinner, if you have the time to bake and serve for dessert. As always, I’d advise you to check out Ms. Humbles post first. It’s full of useful information, although the baking of our vegan meringue is slightly different from the regular meringue in this case. You’ll need to bake it slightly longer, until the tops turn brown. The ice cream won’t melt if you make sure it’s cold to begin with.

Vegan Lemon Meringue Pie!

Close-up of the outside of a lemon meringue pie in front of a grey background.

Today, I’ll give you two versions of one recipe: the big traditional one and some smaller deconstructed pieces of heaven.

None of these pies would have been possible without Ms. Humble (or Orgran No-Egg). Ms. Humble’s picture of a pie wetting itself, along with her explanation of the internal struggle of the lemon-part of the pie inspires greatness. Read her entire post before you attempt this recipe. And Orgran No-Egg just kicks ass. I adapted/invented this recipe a week before Vegan Pie in the Sky came out and I was deeply worried they’d have me beaten to the punch. They didn’t. This is still the best Vegan Lemon Meringue Pie I know of.

Picture of ten miniature lemon meringue and curd topped cookies on top of a red and white background.

This isn’t the easiest recipe you’ll ever master, so you might want to follow it somewhat carefully. However: once you have mastered it, vegans will worship the ground you walk on, just as those with egg- and gluten-intolerance (if you use GF-crust and certified GF ingredients). Of course I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to use their favorite recipe for the crust. I’ve taken a new shine to the shortbread tart-shell from Pie in the Sky. If you want it really fancy, blowtorch you meringue, or put it under the broiler for a minute or so. I have yet to meet an omnivore who notices it’s egg-less. I’ve never had a fondness of meringues, but since it could be done, I felt it should be done. A vegan Baked Alaska, also based on Ms. Humbles instructions, will follow shortly. It turns out it’s all so much easier to make than I could ever have imagined.

Close up of a meringue, curd and cookie on a white plate.

One last word of warning: don’t slice the pie before it’s completely cooled. I did. The following mess came about. Once it did finally cool, it sliced beautifully, none of the pie wetting itself business, but by then it was dark, so no pictures. Which was the reason I started slicing way too early in the first place. The crust stayed perfectly intact as well. The pie was gone that same evening even though we’re only with four. It’s that good.

Close-up of a smashed lemon meringue pie with a yellow knife on a white plate.

A Quick Rundown (or: Paddington Bear Does Berlin)

Before christmas I was working my butt off, preventing me from being tired, sulking around and being a depressed little bunny. And after that I was just being a very sad bunny. That is not to say I didn’t cook. I baked the alaska, meringue’d the vegan lemon pie, sharlotka’d some apples, cashew-cheesed the mac, read 4 new cookbooks, went to Berlin, and just today I finally started designing some serious theatre things. I also did web-design whilst bunnying around, as evidenced by the changes in this website and the portfolio.

Mirror selfie of a person in a bright yellow raincoat, blue pants and red striped sweater.

For now you’ll have to do with a picture of Paddington Bear in a German elevator. The classmates with whom I traveled took to calling me Paddington Bear, even though he clearly wears blue in almost any picture. But they do have a point. If you ever find yourself in Berlin, let Happy Cow or their app guide your journey and you’ll be golden. It makes finding good food breeze instead of a small military heist. I should also mention that Berlin people are extremely friendly and courteous (one even bothered to compliment me on my thoroughly rubbish German), speak perfect English, don’t look at you strangely if your head is shaved but look at you with eyes of burning hate when you wear (real-looking) fur. I bloody love them!

Oyster Mushroom Kalamari

Oyster mushrooms can do anything. They are delicious in a ragout and, well, in anything. And they cost about their weight in gold and sometimes they’re worth it. But I did add some button-mushrooms for variety, which turned out great. I just halved or quartered them, and I can definitely recommend it. I used a part of a recipe from the Millennium cookbook, but over the years I’ve used very little and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. But I saw a picture of the kalamari. And had to make them. I did away with the stir fry, and we had it with some rice.

Picture of different fried mushrooms with tartar sauce on a white plate.

Photographing mushrooms pretending to be dead squid is a challenge. Photographing that attractively I mean. They don’t really do colour, or variety. Just texture. And taste, but I can’t capture taste in a picture. The mushrooms have a chewiness and a deep lovely taste, that squid can’t hold a candle to. And let the squid swim, swim freely!

Toby the Targ

I have a confession to make. It is somehow related to Toby the Targ, B’Ellana Torres‘ stuffed targ. Now, I know Bobby isn’t a targ. But he is stuffed and if I were to go on an away mission for more than 3 days, I probably would take Bobby. I am not sure why I keep comparing Toby and Bobby, I think it’s because I can identify with a grown woman being attached to a plush toy. Bobby and I have been through a lot together. He was with me when I was in the incubator and has been ever since. I hate traveling because that means he stays home (don’t want to lose him on the other side of the globe, now do I?). I always thought Bobby would last until I’d started living together with somebody around the age of 30, which would mean him automatically losing his spot in the bed to Mr. Fliers (although I have since decided that mr. Fliers will just have to learn to live with Bobby). Or if there weren’t any candidates it’d just be me and Bobby forever, which was a serious upside to the whole growing old alone.

Picture of a yellow and red cotton knit teddy bear on a turquoise background.

However, after 20 years of fateful friendship, his knit is coming apart. I’ve sort off fixed it with some sewing thread, but it could come apart any minute. To be honest: hugging him would be murder.The cotton is so old that it’s coming apart inside the thread, breaking in places. So as a last honor to Bobby: he disappeared for 3 horrible months when I thought he was lost forever, when I was 4, only to come out from under the wicker costume basket. When I was 7 he performed the lead in an all puppet cast of Hair (in English, he was wise for his age). That one night when I was 16, I felt so sad and lonely that people couldn’t comfort me but he could. Both moments of great joy or sadness never frightened him. And while I love my camera and computer and name them as well, attribute a personality to them etc., I’d gladly trade Oscar (who is worth, in fact, 6 months wage) for the rest of my life with Bobby. Bobby is irreplaceable.

Quiche

It’s Tarte A L’Alsacienne. Fill the sour cream with sautéed onion and garlic and zucchini. Then top with tomato slices (I used 6 or 7) and bake. Better than your average quiche. And so much healthier. Add some extra salt, pepper, nice herbs (garam masala or smoked paprika would be great, I used oregano, tarragon and thyme). This can be done with cooked potato, baked mushroom, basically, anything, inside or on top. Don’t forget the black pepper. The adding of nutritional yeast for cheesy flavor wouldn’t hurt either, but just the cashew is better, if you ask me. Less complicated but somehow more tasty because of that.

Close-up picture of a quiche with tomato slices arranges in a circular pattern. The quiche sits atop a cooing rack with small black metal squares that contrast with the table underneath it.

Tarte A l’Alsacienne

It started out, innocently enough, with Mad Men, the second series dvd-box. It’s one of the few dvd’s I kept after the big purge. There was a recipe for tarte aux pommes à l’alsacienne. I saw it at 3 in the morning while stressing over schoolwork, thinking: “I should do this after I’ve glue-gunned this skirt, somewhere in the near future”, then proceeding to burn myself with said glue-gun.Second situation leading up to this tarte: lots of prunes, relatively good but not ripe enough to eat out of the hand. Then the old recipe came into my head, and I thought: bingo, I should do that. Google-y google-y and then there were some lovely original French recipes, and combining my limited knowledge of French (turns out it’s more than adequate to read recipes) with the need to veganize everything turned out fine. You’ll make a cashew-based cream filling with a blender. The cake will be firmer if you do so the night before, but it will work on the spot, even though it’ll sink more.

Picture of an unbaked plum tart on top of a wooden table in front of a blue radiator. The top of the pie consists of slices of peach arranged in circles reminiscent of flower petals.

The original called for 4 apples, so I used 6 large prunes. They were in season. It will work with every fruit, just use what you think is the equivalent of 4 apples, about 3 cups? It’s somewhere in between clafoutis and a cream-pie. My dad tasted it thinking it was quiche and was (somewhat unpleasantly) surprised. We were all wondering why he was having cake in the middle of his dinner. Turns out this is also a very nice base for quiches, if you use vegetables. More on that next time. There’s a few ways of baking it. You can arrange the fruit, then pour the cream (see pictures). If you have to transport it or want to prevent it from looking really dreary the second day (say, you wan’t cake and do not have impress via dinner party) just mix it all in. Tastes the same, won’t become blotchy/stained and crackly the second day! In the first case you’ll want to spend some time making nice half-moon shapes, in the second case, just chop and mix. Which reminds me: slivered almonds wouldn’t taste half bad on top, nor would some chocolate sauce.

Picture of plum tart on top of a wooden table in front of a blue background with some whole plums and mint leaves in the background.

I suggest your making this tart and then renting a decent french movie, invite some friends, if one of them has a beamer/big screen tv: bribe them by making things dipped in chocolate sauce. Then, in the tradition of my lovely high school French teachers, proceed with a French-movie-night. Never have I had such fun as having pain au chocolat while watching Harry un ami qui vous veut du bien. Actually, we had some very icky dutch cookies. But one can dream, can’t they?