November 2009 Archives

Everything Stuffing

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Not eating turkey for the holiday? This stuffing makes a great main dish. It's hearty and flavorful with plenty of nuts, seeds and beans to add flavor and texture. Vegetarian, of course. Served with mushroom gravy, this is a meal that will appear on my table even on regular days.

This recipe is handy for using up the bits and bobs of things in your pantry, too. Toss in whatever nuts you have on hand; finish up the last few figs, dates or raisins from your holiday cooking. Use more mushrooms, fewer beans, substitute parsley for celery leaves. I leave out strong seasonings like sage and use them in my gravy, but feel free to add herbs and spices to your liking.

Everything Stuffing
serves 6-8

2 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, diced
1 cup mushrooms, quartered or sliced
olive oil
1/4 cup celery leaves, chopped
1 cup edamame beans
1 cup mixed beans (tinned kidney, garbanzo, pinto, etc)
1 cup mixed nuts, seeds and dried fruit (walnuts, pinenuts, almonds, flax, sesame, cranberry, etc)
1 loaf crusty white bread, cubed and allowed to dry
1 loaf fruited or grained bread, cubed and allowed to dry
1 cup vegetarian broth or water with 1 T each soy sauce and sherry
salt & pepper to taste

Grease a casserole or 9x13 baking dish.

In a wok or very large pan, saute the onion, celery and mushrooms until the onion is translucent. Remove from heat. Stir in the celery leaves, beans, edamame, nuts, seeds and fruit. Add the bread cubes and mix well to combine. Using your hands to stir, slowly pour in the broth, stopping when the bread is damp and a little sticky but not soggy. Season with salt and pepper.

Press the stuffing into the baking dish or casserole. Bake, covered, for 20-30 minutes at 180/350. If you like a dry, crispy top, uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Mock Pumpkin Pie (Kabocha Custard Pie)

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Pumpkins as we Americans know them are not easily available in Japan. Even butternut squash, which is the basis for most canned pumpkin, isn't in supermarkets, and its canned form is rare. But it is possible to satisfy a holiday desire for pumpkin pie with Japanese pumpkin, kabocha.

In most supermarkets, kabocha comes in quarters neatly plastic wrapped. Even though they are relatively small for squash, a whole kabocha is more than most families need. When you are choosing your pieces, pick ones with lots of flesh and not too many seeds.

Mock Pumpkin Pie (Kabocha Custard Pie)
makes 2 pies

3 "quarter cuts" of kabocha
1 can evaporated milk (420 ml)
60 ml milk*
3/4 cup honey or 1 c sugar**
1.5 t cinnamon
1 t clove
1 t nutmeg or allspice
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t salt
4 eggs

First you need to turn the raw pumpkin into mashed pumpkin. Remove the seeds and prepare to cook. I steamed mine for about 30 minutes until I could easily stick a fork in it. If you don't have a steamer, you could boil, bake or microwave the kabocha.

After it cooled a bit, I peeled/pried off the black skin in pieces. The orange flesh mashed up beautifully with the testing fork and made about 3 cups of kabocha.

Put the mashed kabocha and all the other ingredients in a powerful blender or use your mixing tool of choice. Blend until perfectly smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Pour into buttered pie plates or ramekins. Or pour over pie shells if you prefer. Bake at 210/400 for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 170/350 and continue baking for about 40 minutes or until the pie is puffed and slightly cracked and a knife inserted comes out clean. If you are using deep dishes, you may need to bake up to an hour.

*You want a total of 480ml of liquid. Any ratio is ok, but more evaporated milk makes a slightly richer custard.

**A mix of honey and sugar works well, too.

At the orthopedic clinic

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I went to the doctor today. This is a landmark occasion, as the last time I saw a medical office it was for my Turning Point Exam in 2006 when I turned 40. Today, though, I needed to have someone with gear confirm my foot problem was not a broken bone.

So I hobbled down to the Kodokan Building Clinic where they specialise in orthopedics, rehab, and outpatient dialysis. Dr. Yamamoto, who has been practicing medicine since I was 2, did exactly what I hoped he would. After listening to my history and prodding my foot a bit, he took me in for a roentgen, then showed me photographic evidence that my foot is only sprained rather than fractured. I am relieved.

I love looking at my own invisible insides. X-rays are magic and bones are beautiful. Dr. Yamamoto pointed out a previous injury, too - a sprained toe join from when I fell off a stone piling in Evanston in 1995. It really does look all messed up in there. I guess I can expect more problems with my feet in the future. At least I know where to go now.

As is almost always the case when I seek medical advice, there is no treatment for my problem. I've got 3 weeks' worth of Loxoprofen (in easy to use transdermal tape form) to ease my pain and orders not to dance or jump for a while. I guess I will spend the next few weeks refining my hand hooping and minis.

Today I give a thumbs-up to socialised medicine. I was in and out of the clinic in under an hour without an appointment and the total cost for my initial visit, doctor's consultation, two x-rays and 3 weeks of meds was 1860 yen (about $20). Plus the 115 yen I spent on a chocolate pudding to treat myself for being a good girl at the doctor's office.

Gougere Casserole

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Here's a recipe you can show off to your friends or use for a holiday treat. my pictures of the dish weren't very good, but it looked impressive with a shiny, puffy brown crust surrounding a tomato red filling. The original came from my current go-to cookbook for special meals, the out-of-print Encyclopedia of Vegetables and Vegetarian Cooking.

Gougere is an upscale French cheese bread and in this recipe it is used as the pastry in a casserole. The pastry is a cross between choux pastry and a souffle. Making it is easy and fun and very likely fail-proof. The casserole filling is a tomato-based cauliflower stew, but any slightly sour or bitter mixture will work to balance the richness of the pastry. We brainstormed over dinner and came up with alternatives: a thick putanesca sauce, a spicy Indian curry with a tomato base, or some sort of savory citrus sauce. This version is vegetarian but you will find ways to adapt it for carnivores (think ham or bacon).

Gougere Casserole
serves 4

Pastry
1.25 c water
120 g/4 oz butter
140 g/5 oz flour
4 eggs
120 g/4 oz Gruyere, shredded
1 t dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste

Filling
1 can whole tomatoes
1 T olive oil or butter
1 onion, chopped
120 g/4 oz mushrooms, whole or halved
1 small head cauliflower, broken into florets
dash herbes de Provence or a sprig of thyme
salt & pepper to taste

Butter a large round or oval baking dish. Preheat the oven to 200/400.

Bring the water and butter to a boil and heat until the butter melts. Remove from heat. Dump in all the flour at once. Stir hard with a wooden spoon until a smooth ball of dough forms. Allow to cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs, one at a time, beating until glossy after each addition. Mix in the cheese, mustard and seasoning. Form a the dough into a ring around the inside of the casserole dish, leaving a hole for the filling.

Crush or puree the tomatoes and add enough water to equal 1.5 cups. Sit aside. Bring the oil or butter to heat in a wok or deep fry pan. Fry the onions until translucent but not brown, then add the mushrooms and cook until slightly browned. Add the cauliflower and fry for a minute before adding the tomato liquid. Cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat, or until the cauliflower is just turning tender.

Pour the filling, including all its liquid, into the center of the casserole. Bake for 30 -40 minutes or until the pastry is puffy and dark golden brown.

one t-shirt, no sew, 3 piece hooping costume

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1tshirt-3costume.jpg
Click for larger version, or download the PDF

As presented at Spin Matsuri, a quick, inexpensive way to create a costume base that is suitable for hoop dance. Also makes a good superhero costume if you add a cape. Add your own style with fringing, slashes, bling or paint.

Feminine Energy

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Saturday was a red letter day for me. For the first time in my memory, I felt the truly powerful energy of being female. It wasn't what I expected at all.

I was reluctantly, sheepishly, and somewhat fearfully attending Sara-Shivani's lifeshop of tantra and tao yoga. Despite my self-doubt, it came at a fortunate time for me as I have recently met all these goddess-women and they fascinate me. I'd like to be a goddess, too, but I felt I needed guidance. Also, through discussions with Tod and hoop-related body awareness I had painfully come to the conclusion that I was completely out of touch with the physical aspects of being female.

You probably know some women who you'd call earth mothers. They exude a definite calm, stable yet fluid strength, don't they? I felt that energy in myself! It was solid but juicy and flexible. It felt like particles vibrating inside me and it filled me from feet to chest. It was sexual energy, but not in the explosive orgasmic sense at all.

Normally the energy I feel and see and experience in various ways is based in light - glows, sparks, brightness. But this female energy was deeper, lower, dimmer. It was not sinister, it was simply not ethereal. It was strong. It contained a lot of power but no aggression. It was a complete surprise.

And thanks to Sara-Shivani's ability to share her knowledge and to melt away useless insecurities, now I know how to tap into my feminine sexual energy and how to strengthen it inside me. And I will be doing that because it felt good and really, truly right.

Elephun (and not so fun)

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Chiang Mai is home to lots of elephant tourism. While researching our options, I whittled it down to two: Maesa Elephant Camp's 3 day mahout course and a two day visit to the Elephant Nature Park. We opted to do both because they were too different to choose between. Our experiences were like day and night, too.

maesa-junglegirl.jpg

Maesa Elephant Camp
I loved our visit to Maesa Elephant Camp. We were the only overnight visitors during our stay. We were assigned a bilingual staff member, two mahouts (elephant keepers) and their elephants. Mui, our liaison, took all the photos, talked us through stuff, and was constantly cheery and friendly. Mr. May, 10 year old DuanPen's mahout, was often stern due to his military background but his sense of humour was good and he was careful with our safety. Handsome young Mr. Don handled 39 year old Mae Noi, our balky elephant friend and primary mount.

Based on the camp's website, I anticipated a morning of classroom lessons on elephant physiology and psychology when we arrived, but after a ten minute walk through a hall of elephant photos and anatomical drawings, we changed into our 'mahout suits" then watched an elephant show where the elephants played harmonicas, threw darts at balloon targets and painted pictures. Highly entertaining.

And then we were riding elephants!

"Grab her ear and her skin here, and then she puts up her foot for you. Step up her foot and put your leg over her. Sit on her neck. Put your feet in behind her ears." Mui explained. And that is how you ride an elephant. Simple.

Actually, it is is as simple as that. Riding an elephant isn't far off riding a horse. There's a similar motion and need to balance. It's tiring but gets easier with practice. Mae Noi definitely knew we were new riders and ignored most of our commands in favor of stopping for a drink or a few bites of tasty grass. Mr. Don confided that she doesn't really listen to him, either. Mr. May's commanding voice often got her moving, but she even ignored him. Headstrong elephant!

maenoi-junglemud.jpg

We rode her into the jungle the first afternoon and hiked back to camp in our flip flops. It was hot and exhausting and our shoes were sucked into the mud more often than not. We begged off going back for her the next dawn in favor of resting our aching thighs and backs.

maesa-shower.jpg

Elephants love to be wet, so we bathed our elephants in the river by splashing them with water from wicker baskets and brushing them. On the morning of our last day, after Mae Noi had spent the night getting herself covered in jungle mud, we used the elephant shower to hose her down and wash her off with soap.

We ate well, too. Breakfast was served after our morning jungle hikes/rides, then a large lunch in the afternoon, and we had cooking lessons with the camp cook at dinner time. Each meal I looked at the multitude of dishes and thought "Way too much food," but hunger snuck up on me and I nearly always finished what had been laid on the table.

maesa-hilltribe.jpg

One afternoon we saddled up Mae Noi and climbed the mountain to the hilltribe village. It is a model village, government sponsored, with a central fish pond and lovely thatched houses. The villagers peddle their wares for tourists and run a good restaurant, too. There is a comfortable symbiosis between the village and the camp; commerce flows between them in the form of food, tourists, and jobs. In the evenings after the camp closes to day visitors, motorbikes speed up the hill and return with chickens and fish and other ingredients. Kids from the village come down to play soccer on the camp pitch. Dogs have friends in both places.

Some of the mahouts are villagers who go home at night. About half the mahouts live in the camp with their families. We walked through the mahout area with Mui for a look. It's a bit squalid, I guess, but the huts are comfortably lived in and everyone seems happy. We discovered that Mr. May runs the camp cockfighting ring and had a peek at some of the contenders, who were housed in special wicker cages.

maesa-parade.jpg

We had a chance to ride in the show parade on our last day. It was tempting to take off my hat and wave at the crowd, but DuanPen was a bit frisky so I settled for "staying on elephant" as my show trick. After the show, we played soccer with DuanPen and she painted pictures with us. We fed her and Mae Noi a pile of bananas, then it was time to leave.

When we left Maesa, I was so happy I nearly cried. We'd had a great time with the people and elephants there. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone. If you want to see more pictures, check my Flickr set all taken by Mui and presented to us on a CD to take home.

Elephant Nature Park
Elephant Nature Park is a completely different place. ENP rescue elephants from terrible conditions and give them a happy home with lots of freedom. No tricks or shows for visitors, just elephants ranging around a large field interacting with one another in a natural elephant way. They seem very happy and they are certainly well-loved by Lek, the park's founder, and all the staff there.

Even though these elephants come from different places, they form new family groups together. For example, there are several cows with babies and each has attracted a set of "aunties" who help to care for the little ones. If a baby gets spooked and squeals, mum and the aunties rush over to form a protective shield around the baby. The disabled elephants look out for one another. The younger elephants frolic together and swim in the river. It is heartening.

Elephant interaction with the visitors is not entirely restricted. Twice a day the elephants come in near the buildings to get baskets of bananas and other produce. Visitors are encouraged to feed them from the balcony, then allowed to go down to the river to splash and scrub them. There is a "close up with babies" time when you can try to get close to them, but they are frisky and unpredictable, so up close can equal 'trod upon' if you aren't alert.

In addition to the day visitors, there are overnighters and volunteers. Volunteers spend their days helping out with poop cleanup, road building, vegetable harvests, building maintenance and so on. Overnighters do the day programme twice, but get to sit in on the evening activities with the volunteers and get a special walk in the big field with the elephants in the morning.

The volunteers, while doing selfless work, are mostly oddballs. Very dedicated but vapid. Not critical at all nor interested that there is a spectrum of options. I didn't want to see what would happen if I made one of them follow the logical conclusion of ENP's grand missions: returning all elephants to the wild requires people to give back the land that used to be elephant jungles (which is much of inhabited Thailand).

Lek herself is celebrated as a brilliant conservationist worldwide and simultaneously despised by the local elephant tourism operators whom she condemns. She is thwarted by the tourism industry and tells stories of hearing that she is dead and her park is closed. She is passionate, well spoken and has very lofty goals that she tackles one elephant at a time. Her colleagues are equally passionate and dedicated.

As much as I truly admire the work they are doing for elephant rights at ENP and am delighted at how happy the elephants are, I wouldn't go back.

My problems began on the van ride to the park with a documentary that explained the history and work of the park and showed some of the brutal conditions of the elephants that had been rescued. Our tour guide continued the education with stories of elephant torture, rape and other horrors. I would have preferred if he had found a more positive delivery for the ENP message, rather than constantly reminding me of how terrible humans can be to animals. It was a bit like being in a PETA workshop. I hoped this was just a bad guide. He was overzealous and bossy. Others at the park were nicer but they all had the same depressing spin on their work: elephants are victims and people are bad.

ENP does good in an imperfect world and is trying to right wrongs. That is worth supporting. But if you are thinking of going, I suggest a day visit.

I am glad we experienced both sides of elephant tourism. Maesa was delightful and made me happy, but they might torture their elephants to make them docile and trainable. ENP was dreadful from my perspective as a visitor, but it is great for the elephants. One coin, two sides.

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