Put a Ring on It

About six months ago, my left ring finger started to itch and sting. I removed my wedding ring for a few days and applied Cortisone, but as soon as I put the ring back on, the itching returned. I switched the ring to my right ring finger, but the same symptoms appeared a few days later. After talking to friends and poking around on the internet, I realized that at some point I had developed a nickel allergy. Nickel, I recently learned, is mixed with gold to make the white gold my engagement ring and wedding band are made of. As I write this post, my hands are jewelry-free. At some point I’ll probably go to the jeweler and pick up a plain platinum band so there’s some sort of marriage marker, but I’m not interested in buying a new engagement ring.

We’ll be celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary in June, and in the six years I’ve owned my engagement ring, I’ve received piles of compliments on it on a near-weekly basis. It’s not your typical metal band with a stone in the center, but an original creation based on an Edwardian design. It’s a band full of filigree, diamonds and lots of character. And they’re Canadian conflict-free diamonds, which was key for me. When Rich found the ring, he knew right away it was the right one. (Of course he knew, I had given him explicit instructions and design ideas for what I wanted.) He brought me to the jeweler to take a look, and I took it out for a test-drive. We brought it back, and then, because I’m me and like to make sure everything is just as it should be, we then went to 11 jewelers the next day. Just to make sure. Rich was not happy.

When we’d decided on my ring, we asked the designer, Ana-Katarina, if we could maybe replace the center diamond with a higher grade. “Oh no,” she said shaking her head, “You’re getting married. You need to save your money so that you can buy a home and have children. Don’t spend any more money than you have to on a piece of jewelry.” That summer was a hot one, and the store had a special discount depending on the temperature. When the thermometer hit 102, Rich made his move.

My sister and her wife loved my ring so much, that they also went to Ana-Katarina when they decided to get engaged. Their rings are both incredibly unique and inspire oohs and aahs wherever they go. I met someone last year and complemented her on her ring. It was also by Ana-Katarina.

I’ve been trying to make the best of the situation, making dishes that would have required me to remove my rings, like last week’s granola bars, these chickpea patties or this cabbage salad that required an even distribution of the dressing with a few down-and-dirty hand tosses.


I found this recipe earlier this week in “A Good Appetite,” Melissa Clark’s column in The New York Times, and you know how much I love her stuff. I’ve changed things up a bit, and employed my friend Tania’s baked tofu method in lieu of the one Clark suggests. I’ve also replaced the brown rice the salad rests on with wheat berries I soaked overnight and cooked in the pressure cooker.

March is one of those in-between months when it comes to vegetables: You’ve become a little sick of winter’s root vegetables, but asparagus and artichokes are still a few weeks away. Sometimes there are some nice, sweet parsnips that the farmer has picked, but there’s always cabbage. As Clark points out, one head of cabbage can make at least three separate dishes. I used a third of the cabbage I had in the fridge for this dish, and it fed three of us with leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. I hope to use the rest of the vegetable for a warm borscht I’ve been plotting; more on that later.

Ironically, my nose ring is made of titanium, so, for the time being, that’s the one piece of jewelry that’s a constant in my life. And, I guess if this was India or certain African countries, it would be quite evident from that piercing that I am, indeed, happily married.

(Editor’s Note: Because there have been several off-line requests for a photo, I’ve “borrowed” this from one of AK’s albums. I’m a little worried I’m breaking some sort of copyright law by using this photo, so if anyone thinks this might end in a lawsuit, please feel free to chime in.)

Crunchy Vietnamese Cabbage Salad with Baked Tofu

Ingredients

3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce

Zest and juice of 1 lime

1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced (note: I had a red Thai chili and used half. I think any hot pepper will work in this recipe)

1 garlic clove, minced

4 tablespoons peanut oil

1/2 pound extra-firm tofu

4 cups shredded cabbage

1 large carrot, grated

1/3 cup coarsely chopped roasted, salted peanuts, plus more to serve

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus more to serve.

Directions

Preheat oven to 450.

Pat the block of tofu dry using a paper towel. Slice the slab into thirds, and then slice those into thirds. Using your hands, gently toss the slices in a large bowl with a few glugs of olive oil. Place the tofu pieces on an oiled baking sheet and place in the hot oven. At 15 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Using a silicone spatula, test one piece by flipping it over. You’re looking for a nice crust; it should be golden and beginning to caramelize. If it’s not there, place it back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove the pan and flip over a piece. If it’s golden, flip the rest of the pieces and put the pan back into the oven for another 15 minutes. You’re looking for the tofu to be a deep golden and the pieces will be spongy, with just a hint of crispness. Trust me, the texture has an amazing mouth feel and you’ll want to pop pieces of this all night long.

To make the vinaigrette, in a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the first six ingredients, then gradually whisk in the oil.

In a large bowl, toss together tofu, cabbage, carrot, peanuts, cilantro and vinaigrette. Garnish with more peanuts and cilantro.

Champagne Wishes and Fish Sauce Dreams

A few weeks ago, I had a quick procedure. Not a big deal, not even worth getting into the details here, but they did need to sedate me. I was a little groggy afterwards, and I was given the instructions not to drive, go to work or operate heavy machinery for the rest of the day. But when Rich brought me home from the hospital, I grabbed a canvas grocery bag from the backseat and started wobbling my way to the market around the corner.

“Um, what are you doing, dear?” Rich asked.

“I have some stuff I need to pick up,” I replied.

“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, given your condition.”

“Oh, I’m fine. It’s 500 yards from our house, and I promise to use the crosswalks. There’s no heavy machinery involved.”

Rich soon realized this was a battle he would not be able to win, even though his opponent could barely stand up. He watched me steady myself to the end of the street, green sweatpants and all, and turn the corner.

I had had Vietnamese noodles on my mind for the past few weeks, and the chalush (an uncontrollable hankering) was one that not even a minor sedative would keep me from. The secret to Vietnamese noodles is fish sauce, which can be found in Asian markets, and more often than not, in the Asian aisle of most decent grocery stores. It’s usually made of anchovies, and is a bit akin to garum, the stinky fish sauce the Romans doused nearly everything they ate with. Hey, I said the blog is “mostly” vegetarian, cut me some slack.

And the noodles were perfect. They were exactly what I had hoped for. Looking back, I probably should have stayed out of the kitchen that afternoon, and not used the stove or a large chef’s knife. When I tasted the sauce, I thought it was too citrusy, so I stumbled around the kitchen adding a splash of mirin and a dash of soy. Of course, after a few minutes of fussing, I realized I hadn’t actually added the fish sauce; it had been measured and waiting next to the bowl. Oops. But I did succeed in the end, and somehow I managed to photograph it as well.

When Rich returned home from work that night, I greeted him with an offer of the noodles spiked with fish sauce. “Oh,” he said, “so you did end up making them.” “Huh?” I asked. “Oh, you don’t remember? When you came to after the anesthesia, you were mumbling noodles with fish sauce.”

Vietnamese Noodles aka Thai Noodles slightly adapted from Myers + Chang Thai Ginger Chicken Salad, minus the chicken salad, from Bon Appetit September 2011

Ingredients

1 Thai chili, sliced thin

Juice of ½ lime

2 Tablespoon mirin

2 Tablespoon rice vinegar

¼ cup fish sauce

¼ cup sugar

2 teaspoon. ginger, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

12 oz. rice stick noodles

4 oz. cubed tofu

4 springs cilantro, stems included, chopped

Directions

Put a large pot of salted water onto boil.

Whisk first 8 ingredients in a small bowl until sugar dissolves. Set dressing aside.

When the water boils, cook noodles until tender, but still firm to the bite, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain; put in large bowl.

Add cubed tofu to the noodles, pour the dressing, toss to coat, then sprinkle with the chopped cilantro.

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

Babies, I am learning, as more and more of our friends have them, do not care about your carefully constructed plans for their arrival. They do not care if you’ve decided they will only wear cloth or Seventh Generation diapers; if it’s not working for them, they’ll be sure to let you know.

Our friends Amanda and Quentin hosted us for a fabulous vegetarian Mexican meal at their house in August. Amanda was due in mid-October, and we heard about their wonderful midwife they had chosen, the birthing center across from the hospital where Amanda would birth their son. We also discussed their plans for spending the last few weeks of September and early October cooking freezable meals to be eaten at a later date, because cooking with newborn babies is not something that happens.

Well, as it turned out, Miles Timothy had other plans. He zipped into the world, at one in the morning on September 29th, in their bedroom! Practically perfect in every way, Miles, and his new mother and father – who delivered him! – were escorted to the hospital by some very nice firefighters.

Everything worked out, although Miles’s surprise entrance meant that all those meals that were to be cooked before his arrival never got made. Knowing their time was going to be limited for the next few, well, 18 or so years, I spent a little time on Sunday whipping together some freezable meals for the new parents. Amanda is a vegetarian, so I felt that making a casserole, although filling and definitely freezable, wouldn’t necessarily have the protein she’d be needing. Although some babies have trouble digesting their mother’s milk if she’s eaten legumes, I decided to go with chickpeas and brown rice.

Rice, as well as quinoa, freezes and reheats without any trouble.  So when I started making the dish, I tossed a few cups of brown rice with water, a ratio of 3:1, in the rice cooker. Easy peasy. I dug around my cookbooks for a good recipe for something chickpea-based, but came up short. As it turns out, Deb from Smitten Kitchen, went through the same chana masala quest a few years ago and ended up blending a few recipes. I used hers with a few adaptations.

In order to drop the temperature of the dishes without having them sit out and collect bacteria, I placed the cooking vessels in ice water. After the chickpeas and rice were cooled down, I placed them into freezable plastic containers, and brought them to the new parents. We had a quick visit and got to meet Miles in all his perfect tininess.

Chana Masala

Adapted from a Deb from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, which had also been adapted.  This was a perfect pantry recipe, as I had everything on hand.

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

2 medium onions, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 fresh chili pepper, minced (Deb called for a hot green one, I found a random Hungarian pepper in the bottom of my crisper and just went with it. Feel free to use whatever hot pepper you enjoy, or leave it out if heat’s not your thing.)

1 Tablespoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 15 ounce can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small (you’ll need 2 cups worth if you’re using fresh)

2/3 cup water

4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 (15 ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

½ teaspoon salt

½ lemon, juiced

Directions

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic, ginger and pepper and sauté over medium heat until browned, about 7 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low and add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, paprika and garam masala. Cook onion mixture with spices for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in salt and lemon juice.