Monthly Archives: September 2014

Ackee and Tempehfish (A Vegan Take on Ackee and Saltfish)

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I just had to create a vegan rendition on Jamaica’s national dish, ackee and saltfish.  Ackee is a yellow-fleshed fruit that grows on a tree.  It is poisonous to eat before it has fully opened and ripened.  Many people say that the flesh of the ackee, which is eaten, is more reminiscent of scrambled eggs than your typical fruit.  Saltfish is salted cod.  The two together create a match made in yardie heaven.

 

Saltfish is fishy and salty.  Thus, I decided that seaweed would give our tempeh fish that fishy and (slightly) salty taste.  Seaweed is packed with trace nutrients and iodine, both of which are essential to thyroid health.  It makes for a great snack as is and can enhance the flavor and nutritional profile of any dish (including the “Cock” Kelp stock found on page…).  I like to throw a strip of kelp into my slow cooker when I’m cooking beans, which also helps to make the proteins more digestible.  The key in using tempeh, like tofu, is to ensure that it is well marinated before incorporated in a dish.  That one step will drastically improve its flavor.

 

Black salt is what really kicks this dish up a notch.  It has a salty, eggy taste that complements the ackee well.  It is greyish white or slightly pink in colour with a slightly stinky smell (due to the sulfur) and also goes by the name kala namak.  You can find this salt in West Indian food stores or Indian food stores, but if you can’t seem to source it, you can substitute sea salt in the same proportion.

 

While for many Jamaicans ackee and saltfish serves as a symbol of national pride that has been repatriated throughout the Diaspora, for me, it holds more sentimental value.  On the morning of my convocation from law school, it was the dish that my mom and dad made for all of our guests in my tiny apartment in Montreal.  I hope that this vegan version evokes just as many memories for you as it does for Jamaicans the world over.

 

1 block of frozen tempeh

2 5 inch strips of kelp and/or dulse (or

Your choice of seaweed (2  five inch strips of either kelp, kombu, wakame, dulse, or nori.  Nori has the “fishiest” taste) and 1 nori sheet or 1 tbsp dulse flakes

3 tablespoons miso paste (any colour will do – white or yellow)

1 package of tempeh (I used the Noble Bean brand with sea vegetables)

1 stalk of green onion, chopped

1 tomato, diced small or 3 sundried tomatoes, chopped

1 green or red pepper, diced (optional)

1 can of ackee

Black pepper or cayenne pepper or red pepper sauce, to taste

 

  1. In a medium size saucepan, boil the seaweed and frozen block of tempeh until soft yet still firm. I know that sounds imprecise, but we are not looking for precision here.  This should only take 2 minutes.  Boiling the tempeh helps to minimize the bitter aftertaste that some detect when eating it.  It also makes the tempeh chewier.  If you are pressed for time and don’t care about bitterness or chewiness, you can skip this step, since the tempeh will thaw as it marinates in the next step.
  2. Pour the contents of the saucepan (tempeh and cooking liquid included) into a medium-sized bowl. Marinate the tempeh for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator (overnight is best) to give the tempeh the opportunity to better absorb the fishy flavours (we want our tempeh to taste as fishy as possible!).  Add more fresh seaweed to the marinade, if desired (although recommended).   A note here on the seaweed: You can use whatever seaweed you have on hand; once again, precision is not an issue here. Dulse flakes will make the final result look speckled and pretty . Nori does not hold up well with soaking. Thus, if you marinate using the nori, the nori will get soggy and slimy. It won’t negatively affect the taste, but some people might be a little turned off by the texture. If this doesn’t bother I would definitely use it.
  3. Pour the marinade, seaweed and the tempeh into a medium sized frying pan. I would add more seaweed at this stage to ensure maximum “fishiness.”  Now, “cook eit down”: cook the tempeh on medium heat until the marinade has been absorbed or “reduced” (as is the proper cooking term).  Once the tempeh has cooked, set it aside.
  4. Drain off the excess water on the ackee. Spray your frying pan with coconut oil (I would suggest you use the same pan you used to cook the tempeh.  The residual tempeh flavours are already in the pan, and you will save yourself from washing one extra thing.).  Sauté the green onions and tomatoes for 1 minute.  Add the ackee and gently stir in the tempeh, and more seaweed (if you like; strips of nori sheets would be especially good here).  Add your black salt (to taste, being mindful that if your ackee was preserved in a salt brine, the ackee may already be somewhat salty.  Always taste your food before you add salt). Gently stir until just combined – not too much, or the ackee, which is fragile, will crumble.  Add black pepper to taste.  Serve hot.  This dish is best served with some fried dumplings or fried or baked plantains.

 

“Trying a Ting”: Instead of tempehfish, you can substitute scrambled tofu or tempeh bacon.  Feel free to add TVP bacon bits too!

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What My Balcony Garden Taught Me About Life and God

You visit the earth and saturate it with water; You greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; You provide them with grain when You have so prepared the earth.  You water the field’s furrows abundantly, You settle the ridges of it; You make the soil soft with showers, blessing the sprouting of its vegetation. You crown the year with Your bounty and goodness, and the tracks of Your [chariot wheels] drip with fatness. The [luxuriant] pastures in the uncultivated country drip [with moisture], and the hills gird themselves with joy.  The meadows are clothed with flocks, the valleys also are covered with grain; they shout for joy and sing together. — Psalm 65:9-13

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My plants have been teaching me a lot about God.

I have one plant that I found at the side of the road.  The shop owner was giving a bunch of plants away for free.  What attracted me to it was its colour.  It had green leaves with deep red accents and red leaves with green accents.  It’s so lovely, and whenever I look at it I am reminded that God has a penchant for beauty.  Like that Gungor song, “He makes beautiful things” and, like the Bible tells us, “He makes all things beautiful in His time.”  It has flourished on my balcony.

The Bee and the Balcony

I didn’t expect to see any bugs, let alone bees on my balcony since I’m pretty high off the ground.  Sure enough, I saw a bee on my balcony one day.  It reminded me of the quote: “The flower does not dream of the bee.  It blossoms, and the bee comes.”  The bee will find the flower.  All the flower has to do is concentrate on blossoming.  Who would have thought that my garden would deliver a message of encouragement for my life as a single woman?

The Tomato Plants

I bought two small tomato plants.  They’re not so small anymore (I feel like a proud mother!).  One tomato plant was in a hard to reach corner of my balcony because other plants were in front of it.  Thus, it was hard to water it.  I mean, I did water it, but not as much as its sister.  As soon as I saw the first yellow flower and my first tomato on it, I watered it zealously.  I wouldn’t let a day pass without watering it.

The one that I neglected flourished.  The one I paid too much attention to became water logged and is now half the size (in terms of foliage) of the neglected plant.  I expect to get at least 15 juicy tomatoes from the neglected plant alone.  For the other plant that I continuously watered, I would be lucky if I got 5.  It has stopped growing, but I’m praying that it will live and thrive.

Isn’t that the way with some of our dreams and plans?  Sometimes we need to redirect our attention onto other things so our dreams can breathe.  Sometimes we need to take a step back and stop hovering over and interfering.  Forgetting about a particular dream instead of holding it so tightly may give your dream a chance for it to regenerate and grow.

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Life from Lifeless Basil

I bought basil, which looked like it had just come from the greenhouse.  One day, I noticed the leaves and stalk turning brown and the basil dried up for no apparent reason.  I didn’t have a heart to throw it away – in fact, I’m reluctant to throw away anything.  So I removed it from the hanging planter and placed it on the floor of the balcony in my “rejected plants” corner.  I soon forgot about it.  I didn’t even water it.

Much to my surprise, a few weeks later, I started to see signs of life.  I saw little green leaves budding.  Here I was.  I had given up on this plant.  But here it was growing, and now you wouldn’t be able to suspect that anything had been wrong.  Sometimes we think things – dreams, plans, marriages, etc. – are dead but they are anything but.  They can bounce back.  When we let things go, it gives dreams a chance to grow.

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Thirsty Plants, Thirsty Soul

One week I went away to visit family.  I wouldn’t be around to water my plants, so I prayed that they would not die before I came back.  Would you believe my plants looked just as healthy upon my return as when I had left?  God cares even about the small things, like my tiny first vegetable garden.

I didn’t consider this to be much of a big deal until I saw what my plants looked like when I forgot to water them for one day.  After I returned, there were times when a day would pass without them getting any water.  The fact that they had formerly gone without water for a week and were fine but were now dying after a day without water reminded me of the goodness of God and reminded me of how much we living creatures need water.

And yet one time I didn’t water my plants for two days (I know – I’m pushing my luck).  Teaching kids totally tuckered me out by the time I got home and I was too tired (or lazy) to go out and water my plants (don’t judge me).  On the third day, when I stepped out onto my balcony, all of my plants looked like they were on the brink of death.  The rosemary had two red and black looking tick-looking bugs on it that wouldn’t get off, and I hadn’t had to deal with pests ever before.   I quickly gave my plants a good soaking, and luckily they all soon bounced back to life — all except the mint.  The mint stayed shriveled up.  In the days that followed, I watered it some more, but it still wouldn’t rejuvenate.   I was saddened.  I wanted to use the mint for my watermelon salad (mint and watermelon pair so well together, fyi).  So I removed it from the planter and placed it on the ground beside my former rejected plants (like the basil and the thyme – both of which have come around and are now thriving).

I was asked to teach Sabbath School that week, and God, through my garden, gave me the perfect object lesson to share with my class.  Sometimes we may go a day or two without prayer or Bible study, but we can’t afford to.  There are those of us who are able to just resume after a spiritual hiatus and pick up where we left off, but even that is dangerous.  We cannot afford not to connect with God on a daily basis because we don’t know if we are mint.  We don’t know if we’ll be able to bounce back.

Update on the mint: It is slowly growing again, but it is not flourishing like it was before.

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. — Romans 1:20

What Balcony Gardening Has Taught Me

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The garden as of August 11, 2014.

As promised, I’ll share a few insights from starting my first balcony garden.  Was it worth it?  Well…

Pros of Growing a Balcony Garden

  • Potentially save on your produce grocery bill (that is, if your plants actually yield fruit)
  • No worms!  No centipedes!  No major pests like what you would deal with in a backyard (ladybugs, squirrels, groundhogs, and the like)
  • It’s relaxing and makes a nice scenery while enjoying your Sunday brunch on your balcony
  • It’s good exercise
  • It is (or at least should be) cheap to do – biggest bang for your buck
  • Being able to run out to your balcony, snip off whatever you need (green onion, rosemary, thyme or tomato) and immediately incorporate it into whatever it is you are making in the kitchen.  It’s like having a produce section steps away from your kitchen.

 

Cons of Growing a Balcony Garden

  • You must buy your own soil because you do not have any earth (you don’t realize how much you take free soil in the earth for granted until you want to start your own garden on your balcony)
  • Lack of sunlight (but some plants still thrive in such conditions)
  • Lack of pollination (you won’t get a lot of bees, so you may have to pollinate your zucchini and squash flowers by yourself)
  • Lack of natural hydration (the rain does catch the plants, so you have to be particularly vigilant about watering)
  • Pigeons (and their poo)

A word on pigeons: Would you believe that I’ve lived here for years and never saw a pigeon on my balcony and the one time that I decide to use my balcony and plant something, pigeons wanna swarm my balcony and use it as a restroom?  Dem facety heh? (They are rude right?).  After reading up on what to do online, I tied old CDs with string to stakes and I went back to my hotspot – Dollarama – and purchased a fake owl.  It worked for a while, and I did rotate the owl from place to place, but I think the pigeons have caught on.  One day I was in my living room and I heard cooing and I was like, “Say word the pigeon is back on my balcony.”  Usually it was just one pigeon, but now he’s brought a friend.   While I can totally relate to the desire of wanting a comfortable place to go poo, must they do it beside my tomatoes?  Like really.  I can imagine the dialogue:  “Hey!  I know a good place where we can poo beside tomato plants.  Come.  I’ll show you.”  I’ve just resigned myself to shooing them away and re-arranging the fake owl ever so often.  I haven’t spotted any more poo for a while now (*knock on wood*), but they still like to visit my garden paradise.  These birds are brave.

Welp, it’s September.  That means that it’s almost harvest time and some of my plants, despite my numerous attempts of care and showering them with love and attention, have failed to produce fruit.  Of all of the seeds that I planted, this year I will be getting two short, deformed carrots and maybe 10 – 15 tomatoes (though they are kinda small in size).  No zucchini, no cucumber, no cherry tomatoes, no butternut squash, no spinach, no bell peppers…yeah.  The herbs are still doing well though.  Next time (if there is a next time) I will stick to growing herbs and tomatoes and replanting green onion.  Just herbs and tomatoes and green onion.

Hodgepodge (Vegan Cruise, Food, clothes) 334

Before…

 

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After (before the mint died and resurrected itself).

Do I have a green thumb?  I guess not.  This experience, however, has taught me a lot about myself and my God.  How so?  I’ll explain more in my next post.

I’d be interested to know — what have you learned from your gardening adventures?

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