Thursday, July 31, 2008

July 28, 2008: Oaty rhubarb muffins

Though I baked these muffins a day or two later, I expect that this recipe will consistently remind me of Saturday, June 26. On this day Michael and I took a friend to the Slow Food Farmers' Market in Abbotsford. I bought a bunch of rhubarb and while Michael was lining up for coffee, I also succumbed to the temptation of a single-serve rhubarb tart, sold with a dollop of fresh cream.

An hour later we congregated at the Convent for the Meatless Blog Meet over lunch. Though Duncan, Claire, Agnes and Ed provided reassuringly familiar faces, it was quite exciting to meet many others for the first time: FoodieFi, Another Outspoken Female, Lucy, Anh, Bunches, Dani, Melba and Johanna. And it's with Johanna that we come full circle, because it's her recipe for oaty rhubarb muffins that I particularly bought the rhubarb for!

This muffins are prime afternoon snack material - wholesome and filling, with pink fruity bursts providing the sweetness I'm typically craving at that time. They're also no too taxing to put together on a weeknight - no softening of butter is required!

Oaty Rhubarb Muffins
(I got 14 standard-sized muffins out of this quantity)

2 cups rhubarb, sliced into 3-4 cm segments
3 tablespoons raw sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup rolled oats
2 teaspoons of spice - I used a mix of ginger, cinnamon and Chinese five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
40g candied orange, diced

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and lightly grease a muffin tray.

In a saucepan on gentle heat, stir together the rhubarb and raw sugar until the sugar has melted and the rhubarb softens just slightly.

Whisk together the buttermilk, egg, oil and brown sugar. When the rhubarb's cooled down a little, stir it into this mix.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, oats, spices and salt. Toss through the candied orange and ensure the pieces are separated and lightly coated in flour.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and stir until just combined. Spoon the mixture into the muffin tray and bake it for about 20 minutes - I think I baked mine for a little less time, so keep an eye on them and use the skewer test.

July 26, 2008: Celeriac salad

The soy bombs are on regular rotation in this kitchen, but we try to mix 'em up a bit. This time I pulled a seasonal accompanying side out of my bookmarked recipes: celeriac salad from stonesoup. It's a 4th generation descendant of the French celeriac remoulade, using creme fraiche or sour cream instead of mayonnaise and a variety of acidic substances (two mustards, two vinegars and lemon juice) to keep that fast-browning celeriac fresh. Though it gradually loses a bit of crunch, we happily continued to munch the leftovers for several days. Even better, this tart and abundant dressing meant that the soy bombs didn't require any extra condiments.

July 25, 2008: Bodhi Cafe

It's no secret that I enjoy a faux meat treat every now and then, and Bodhi Cafe's been on my restaurant wishlist ever since Kristy blogged about it. We were surprised to see this sleek and inviting cafe empty when we arrived at 6:30, and expected that we might see a few more customers later.

The menu offers a handful of deep fried entrees then runs the gamut of rice, noodle and soup dishes. Most, though not all, include a faux meat - chicken, lamb, beef and seafood all get a mention.

We started off by sharing a duck roti roll ($5). It was a little small for the price, but undoubtedly tasty - the modest amount of salty faux-duck was combined with shredded lettuce and mayonnaise, then wrapped with a hot and flaky roti. Goodbye KFC cravings!

Bodhi also offers a wide range of flavoured teas and coffees. Kristy recommended the kumquat tea ($6) and I was willing to give it a go - it's cute and sweet, and had a pithy edge.

For my main meal I ordered the vegie chicken rice ($9) - "deep fried crispy vegetarian chicken with salt and pepper and some special sauce". Though I liked the flavour of the sauce, it was bathed in a rather unattractive oil slick (I've also had this problem making satay sauce at home). Worse, the chicken pieces were overcooked and very oily.

Yet again, Michael was giving me order envy! His Thai green curry with rice ($10.50) was fragrant and the chicken meltingly tender - proof positive that Bodhi can deliver the faux meat goods.

Unfortunately we didn't witness a spike in customers during our time at here - just a couple of takeaway orders. Perhaps the inconsistency we experienced is part of the problem? It's a shame because the overall impression this cafe made on me was a good one. With prices well below those at the White Lotus, I plan to return and explore the menu further.

Update 18/7/2010: Unfortunately Bodhi has closed down (sometime ago), I guess the number of customers didn't pick up.

Address: 241 Victoria St, Abbotsford
Phone: 9416 1889
Licensed and BYO wine
Price: entrees $4-6, mains $8-10.50

July 24, 2008: Coconut Rice Pudding

Cindy and I had spent most of July living without a kitchen, so we were running out of time to get to our monthly World In Your Kitchen recipe. July's treat was a coconut rice pudding from Venezuela. I think I say this every time: the recipes on this calendar are simple - this one has just 6 ingredients and was completely easy to pull together. As usual though, this has a downside: often the dishes we make from the calendar are inferior versions of slightly more complicated recipes of the same dish (see these two harira soup recipes for example).

This was no exception - it was tasty, with the cinnamon and lemon adding a little spark to the sugary base. Still, it was a bit lacking in textural variety (some nuts or dried fruit might have kept things a bit more interesting), and fell well short of the rice pudding heights that Cindy has previously taken things to.

Coconut rice pudding

225g rice
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
grated rind of 1/2 lemon

Put the rice into a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Cook for ten-fifteen minutes, until the rice is almost cooked. Drain the rice (careful not to burn yourself!)

Return the rice to the pan, add the coconut, milk, half the cinnamon and the sugar and mix it all together.

Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the rice is cooked properly.

Plate it up and then sprinkle with the lemon rind and remaining cinnamon.

July 20, 2008: Quick green soup

Cindy had warned me by email that she was suffering some sort of cheese-overdose in Chattanooga, so I planned to provide her with something healthy to try to redress the balance. She also had to adjust to the weather - I'd come back to a burst of unseasonable warmth, but Cindy got off the plane into a more typical winter day: wet, windy and cold. Luckily, The Age had caught my eye with this recipe (I won't reproduce it here - I followed their directions to the letter). It looked warming, healthy and hearty - the perfect welcome home meal. Especially with a delicious Indian bread to accompany it.

With all the spices included in the ingredients, I expected something with a rich and complex flavour - it didn't quite measure up to what I'd imagined, but it was still a pretty satisfying dinner. I'd up the chilli to a few pinches, and probably amp up the ginger as well. For some reason it performed much better as a reheated lunch later in the week - maybe the spices needed a few days to really infuse.

July 12-18, 2008: Chattanooga

The last destination on my overseas journey was - bizarrely - Chattanooga, Tennessee. Not an obvious stop-over after traversing the UK, perhaps, but again it was work commitments that brought me there. And if the town of Chattanooga reminds you of a certain song, perhaps you can share a gaffaw at my accommodation - the Holiday Inn Chattanooga Choo Choo!

The Chattanooga train station serviced passengers from 1909 through to 1970, and was then converted into a holiday complex. The terminal station is now the grand lobby of the hotel.

Guests can stay in renovated train carriage rooms or the more ordinary hotel building at the far end of the old train platforms.

The platforms stretch as paths from lobby to hotel, and the lines have been filled in as pretty manicured gardens.

Downtown Chattanooga can be pretty lifeless. There's a small zone of family-friendly restaurants surrounding an IMAX and an aquarium but that's it. There are blocks and blocks of tall grey buildings and wide streets without a cafe or dress shop in sight. It doesn't make for particularly interesting strolling and thus, there are very few people to be seen strolling. Amongst the clean and dreary streets, however, lies the Country Life Vegetarian Restaurant. With its cafeteria-style tables and harsh fluorescent lighting it didn't really evoke any country life I aspire to, but the gentle staff and nourishing food were ample compensation.

The restaurant offers just a couple of different dishes each day alongside baked goods and a salad bar. The legume-filled fajita with soy sour cream was fantastic, as was the tender and herby shredded soy chicken. Coleslaw seemed like a complementary side but I should have known it would come with triple the dressing it needed - the US of A's primary salad sin.

Tracy (you remember Tracy? She and Lee were my Choo Choo room-mates!) tried one of Country Life's blueberry muffins and as you can see, it was larger than her entirely adult-sized fist. It was soft and cakey (particularly for a vegan muffin, which I think it was) and not as excessively sweetened as I expect American muffins to be. Indeed, this was to be the healthiest meal that we would eat in Chattanooga... by a loooong way.

The horror began very shortly after this meal as we took an exploratory look in a nearby variety store (you know the kind - they sell junk food and plastic stuff and cheap toys and shampoo).

Just say no.




Nuh-ugh grfgllll...... can't resist... the lure... of Reese's. The peanut butter cup has long been my undoing. A nasty, nasty American convenience food; full of sugar, salt and saturated fat, yet I love them. Though I saw them on that first day in Chattanooga, I didn't allow myself to buy a packet until just a few hours before I left. I knew what temptation they'd be, lurking in the hotel room.

Of course, breakfast at the hotel wasn't much better. The buffet entreats guests to eat all that they possibly can, and very little of it is nutritious. Eggs are filled out with cheese and two or three kinds of meat. Even the granola, yoghurt and fruit tasted like dessert and made my teeth hurt. (The promised strawberries were actually just jam.) Instead, I retreated to the neighbouring cafe and ate sparingly, if not healthily.

Tea and a cinnamon roll.
I declined the offer of glaze (i.e. thick icing).

Tea and a bagel.

Tea and a square cranberry muffin.

I can see the food part of this post is getting a little dire, so how about an interlude? Check out this serene garden, tucked away by the river.

Feel the cool breeze against your skin, perhaps it carries a soft tune...
you are at peace.

That better? Good. 'Cause now I've got to tell you about my meal at Cheeburger Cheeburger, and it's not pretty.

Certainly the decor isn't pretty...

... though the kids' meals are kind of cute.

As you can probably tell, this is the all-American franchised diner experience. It's all about burgers and fries and 75 milkshake flavours. And did I mention over-eating? Their Famous Pounder is a burger with 20 oz (that's almost 570 g) of meat - if you can finish one of those, they'll stick your picture on their Hall of Fame. And for all those still-growing stomachs out there, there's a smaller burger and junior Hall of Fame for the under 12s.

I was not expecting to eat much more than fries here, 'cause Chattanooga's not exactly a vegetarian's paradise. Country Life aside, I'd been subsisting on side orders of salad and fries, even having to order one salad without the standard hot bacon vinaigrette. So I wondered if my eyes were playing tricks when I saw not one, but two vegetarian options on the Cheeburger Cheeburger menu. I initially planned on a veggie burger but ultimately chose the grilled portobello mushroom sandwich. It probably didn't make much difference either way - it was always going to be served smothered in cheese, on a doughy white bun.

We ordered a half serve of fries and onion rings and received more than the three of us could hope to eat. The onion rings were an utter disappointment - soggy and dripping with oil, they were nothing like the crunchy delights in the UK.

Determined to finish the night with some genuinely enjoyable American junk, we hit Ben and Jerry's for ice cream. They rock.

Perhaps you're feeling a little stuffed again, hmmm? Let me distract you with some pictures from the aquarium - I was very lucky to visit in the evening as part of a work function. No school groups or families on holidays, just a bunch of biologists getting a nerdy nature fix!

The temporary seahorse exhibit was just spectacular - can you believe that seaweed looking thing above is actually a sea dragon?! Do a google image search for some more, you've got see some better photos of them than mine.

By the end of the week I'd had more than enough of the deep-fried fast-food American experience, but had failed to locate any real Central American or Southern cuisine. But on the final morning a friend-of-a-friend took a few of us on a short trip out of town for a country style breakfast at the Cracker Barrel. (Another franchise - there is nary an independent business to be seen 'round these parts.)

As usual, there was an awful lot of meat goin' on - with eggs, with French toast, biscuits and gravy. The three "Low Carb Options!" each consisted of three eggs, three kinds of meat and a tomato. Diet-licious!

Actually, I managed a super-cheap and ample vegetarian breakfast of some unfamiliar foods: hash brown casserole (with onions and cheese), fried apples and a biscuit. Though I would have liked to try some gravy with my biscuit, the thick white stuff harboured chunks of pink sausage. Pass. The biscuit itself was great though, a light fluffy cloud of a scone. And in spite of my new-found fry aversion, the hash brown was pretty tasty.

I didn't think I liked Chattanooga. The streets seemed soulless, the people obtuse and the eating excessive at every meal. Yet it had its charms, too - the tranquil and surprising sculpture garden, the free and frequent electric buses, and punchy, toe-tapping brass band at the conference dinner. What struck me most was the staggering hospitality of every one of Chattanooga's citizens - from the suits to the unemployed folks on the bus - all of them proclaimed their pride in their town and wished me a wonderful stay. And you know what? It wasn't bad.

July 10-13, 2008: Tokyo

When Cindy and I parted ways in Edinburgh, she was headed for a short trip to St Andrews. I, on the other hand, had a 6 hour train ride to London followed by a 12 hour flight to Tokyo to look forward to. My brother Matt has been residing in Tokyo for just over a year now, and I decided it was finally time to visit. Unfortunately I got in in the middle of a work day, so I dragged my jetlagged body around on my own (and camera-less) for the first afternoon. Matt had provided me with a range of options, and I settled for a stroll through Ueno Park.

The relative spaciousness of the park was a gentle introduction to the crowded bustle of Tokyo-proper, and I happily wandered around the ponds and through the gardens before deciding I was awake enough to take on a museum. Feeling culturally adventurous, I skipped the Museum of Western Art and opted for The Tokyo National Museum - a dauntingly large complex, with at least five different buildings to explore. I settled on the Japanese Gallery in the Honkan building to start off with, and was suitably impressed by the tour through Japan's art history, from 10000 BC up until the end of the Edo period in the mid-1900s. It's pretty remarkable stuff.

By the time I'd made my way through the wonderful special exhibition on the representation of Buddha, I was buggered. I'd barely slept the night before the flight, worrying that I'd oversleep and miss my train from Edinburgh. Even that lack of sleep didn't make it easier for me to sleep on the flight, so by the time 5pm rolled around, I'd had about 3 hours sleep in what felt like a week. I still had an hour or so until meeting up with Matt, so I sat by the pond for a while and watch the birds (including a really beautiful Egret that was happily fishing a couple of metres away from me). Of course after about five minutes of sitting, I was out like a light. Not a good look. Luckily I roused myself in time to get back to Ueno Station to meet Matt.

It wasn't time to sleep yet - it was time to rock. Matt had bought us tickets to see Shonen Knife in Shinjuku somewhere, so it was straight out on the town It turns out that gigs in Japan are designed for tired old people like me - they start about 7 and are finished by 10:30 - so despite a few long blinks I was able to hang in there until the end of the second encore.

Our quick stroll through Shinjuku back to the train station gave me my first real taste of the bright lights of Tokyo.

A good night's sleep left me ready to face a solo day of Tokyo exploration (Matt was stuck working again). Again I'd been well-hosted - Matt had pre-purchased me a ticket to the Ghibli Museum. I've only seen a couple of Miyazaki's films, so some of the exhibitions lacked a bit of context (not helped by the strictly Japanese signage). Still, I was suitably wowed by the zoetrope (I've tried to find a youtube video that won't give you a headache, but you'll just have to imagine it - if anyone saw the Pixar version at ACMI, you'll have the basic gist) and enjoyed the exclusive short film (it had no dialogue at all, so my language lameness was no problem). The life-size Catbus was pretty rad as well (helped by the fact that Japanese kids are all insanely cute). I think if I hadn't been to the excellent Pixar exhibition, this would have amazed me a bit more - it's still worth the trip though.

It helps that it's situated right in the middle of a really relaxed park - lots of trees, paths and a couple of large lakes. Highlights: a tiny temple, lots of spot-billed ducks, little-grebes and some sort of night-heron. And turtles!

Matt had given me directions to a mountain walk just outside Tokyo, but the heat had taken its toll on me and I had plans back in the city: 1) visit a vego restaurant from my guidebook and 2) do some gift shopping for Cindy. The vego restaurant was a bit of a letdown - it was actually an organic restaurant that carefully marked the various ingredients in the buffet. There were a couple of options, but most stuff was stuffed with fish. This was to be a common theme of the trip, and there were a couple of meals where I ended up just picking bits of meat out. This, along with my lameness, explains the general lack of food photos. The shopping was more successful - plenty of trinkets for Cindy (only the food-themed treates are photo-worthy apparently)! And some eye-popping moments just wandering around Shibuya.

I was utterly pooped again, but Matt had more late-night plans for me. We met up outside Ikebukuro station for a soubetsukai (leaving party) for one of his workmates. The venue for the evening was The Lock-Up (I'm pretty sure that website wouldn't make any more sense in English) - a horror/prison-themed bar that was about five times funnier than it was scary. The creepy death-metal versions of Abba songs were the freakiest moments. The food was fine (again I struggled to find purely vego options) - the highlight: this eyeball that came with someone's creepy drink. Delicious.

Another late night meant that Saturday started a bit late. Matt's fine planning work continued, with a jaunt to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography for the 2008 World Press Photo Exhibition. I'd been to the 2006 version of this in Amsterdam and been knocked out, and it was wonderful again. Not entirely upbeat, but very, very impressive. The other bonus was the indoor, air-conditioned nature of the exhibition - Tokyo had turned on mid-30s, high-humidity weather, making outdoor activities kind of painful. Nevertheless, we headed off to explore Shibuya, stumbling across this terrifying horde of Macca's promoters.

Matt's main goal was to get us to the A to Z cafe - home to a mock-up of Yoshitomo Nara's workspace, filled with loads of his artwork, trendy furniture and a pretty veg-friendly menu. I left on a high, having been complimented on my chopstick skills by one of the staff. Go me!

We swung past a couple of shops in the neighbourhood - I was tempted by some hip outfits, but decided I lacked the appropriate muscle-tone.

Next stop was the Tokyo Design Festa Gallery, an insanely decorated gallery that basically lets out little rooms to all kinds of local artists. It's all very cosy, with the artists often hanging out in their rooms chatting to the people strolling through. The overall vibe was very much the cute cartoony art that seems so popular in Japan.

One of Matt's hipster friends had suggested that we visit Nagi Shokudo, a tiny vegan cafe tucked away near Shibuya station. It's loaded up with trendy cds and books and is decorated with more cute little animals. The staff were super-friendly and knew enough English for us to get our orders in - fake meats for me and tofu for Matt, with various side dishes (shamefully I forgot to get food photos!). It was all pretty good, and the welcoming atmosphere had me content to sit around all night. We also discovered the vegan restaurant pocket guide. It looked an invaluable resource for vegos trying to find their way through Japan's seafood-heavy cuisine.

But there was no time for that. It was off to the cinema to check out a documentary about the crazy Boredoms drumming show, 77 Boadrum. Some of the droney bits combined with my ongoing tiredness to have me drifting off, but it was pretty great in patches.

Sunday was another stinking hot day, and Matt and I started off inside at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The observatories on the top floor of each 250m tall tower are open to the public and are completely free. Unfortunately it was a bit of a hazy day, so we couldn't see anywhere near all the way to Mt Fuji.

The rest of the morning was basically spent wandering the streets and admiring the architecture and public art.

The heat was too much for this guy.

We stumbled back into the constantly crowded Shinjuku, enjoying some of the peculiarly Japanese imagery.

More heat, more crowds and more lights.

My Tokyo sojourn ended with a trip to a multi-level entertainment complex - chock full of cutting edge video games. Strangely, multiplayer horse-racing games seem to be the current trend. For all the complexity and action, the none of the people playing the games seemed particularly enthused.

We couldn't leave before I'd had a nostalgic trip down Streetfigher lane. I was having a great old time fighting the computer, but one of the locals spotted me and joined the battle - hilariously trouncing me in about 12 seconds. I've never seen so many flaming body parts.

That spanking seemed like an appropriate farewell from Tokyo - it was like I was being brutally thrown out of the country. Besides, I was hot and exhausted and work was calling. An hour long train ride through the never ending density of Tokyo got me out to Narita and I dragged my sweaty, tired carcass onto the 8 hour trip home. Good times. Tokyo was a complete change of pace from the UK places we'd visited - less ancient buildings and more neon. The crowds would eventually wear me down - we didn't catch a single train that wasn't crowded to bursting point, but the whole place is pretty exhilarating. I'm hoping Matt hangs around for another year or more so I can head back there (although maybe not in mid-summer) - not only does he provide a place to sleep, he's a superb host, chock full of ideas, maps and planning.