belated vegan pizza day pizza

Vegan Pizza Day was on the 29th! I missed blogging about it because I was in New York City visiting some friends, so here is a picture of some pizza in belated honor of vegan pizza day!
Toppings are onions (I love onions on pizzas); a cheese sauce made from tofu, miso, and nutritional yeast; and pepperoni-flavored carrots, a variation on my zucchini pepperoni. Guys, let me tell you, zucchini works a lot better than carrots for this recipe! Carrots are way less absorptive. They tasted good, though not much like pepperoni. Anyway the whole vegetable pepperoni thing is just to put some extra veggies on my pizza without compromising on salty-smoky flavors.


Super Sad True Love Story: Dduk bok ki

I love food and I love to read. As a result, each month I'll combine these two interests in a post about food from literature. I usually post a warning about potential spoilers here, but since this is a recent book and you might (should) read it soon, I'll avoid mentioning specifics.


In Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, Lenny, a man rapidly approaching 40 but wanting desperately to live forever, falls in love with Eunice, a clothes-obsessed 24-year-old who thinks Lenny looks like a rhesus monkey. The book goes back and forth between Lenny's journal entries and Eunice's email and IM exchanges, showing their very different reactions to what happens between and around them as they start a relationship in a politically, economically, and technologically volatile world. It's set sometime within the next 50 years, when corporations and nations are synonymous, books are rotting and smelly, clothes are see-through, and everyone carries around devices that keep them connected to the internet (but not to each other) at all times. Basically, it's a dystopian love story in a dystopian near-future.
I really liked this book. It reads quickly and lightly, so it is mostly a fun read, but it has enough issues and ideas that it leaves you thinking afterwards. The United States of this story is one of social, political, and economic unrest. Everyone wants to be younger, thinner, more desirable, and none of them have meaningful connection with other people. International relations are strained, and some of Lenny's friends are suspected of nefarious dealings with the ubiquitous Bipartisan party. Currency is unstable but everything important in the characters' lives costs money.

One girl in my book club complained that the book takes on too many issues: she thought that any one of those themes I just listed could be a book unto itself, and the relationship between Eunice and Lenny gets in the way of Shteyngart exploring those themes, or the themes get in the way of Shteyngart exploring the relationship. I disagree with her; I think the real pleasure of reading this book was seeing how Lenny and Eunice's feelings for each other and for their families eclipse everything else in their worlds. The narration is entirely through their personal journals and emails; yuan-pegged dollars and political uprisings take a backburner to Lenny and Eunice's feelings for each other not because Shteyngart can't juggle all of those elements, but because to these lonely people, the attempt to really connect with each other is more important. The book seems to say that though the society around them discourages interpersonal connections or emotions, these things are a necessary part of human experience. No matter how strange or different society becomes, we will always have the same feelings, the same emotional needs.

My description of the book makes it sound much heavier than it is. Though there are heavy themes, the writing is very light, with a lot of humor. Shteyngart's humor is sometimes slapstick, sometimes dark, sometimes subtle, and sometimes absurd. (I had to use the word "absurd" somewhere in here; he's the author of Absurdistan.) There's a funny "trailer" for the book on YouTube, which isn't really about the book at all.

Super Sad True Love Story shows that while basic human connections may have broken down in society, people still yearn for interpersonal relationships--both romantic and familial. Both Eunice and Lenny think about and talk to their families often. Eunice and her family, in their emails, often mention her Korean mother's home cooking, which is why I decided to write about this book for this entry: one of the foods that reminds Eunice of home is dduk, which is one of my favorite foods to work with.

"Dduk" (also spelled duk, tteok, etc) is usually translated as "rice cakes," but this is misleading. Dduk is more like a thick rice pasta; it is made from pounded rice flour combined with water to produce various shapes. Usually dduk comes as slightly-larger-than-finger-sized tubes, but my favorite shape is the quarter-inch-thick ovals. You can find dduk at korean or chinese markets, usually in the fridge but sometimes in the freezer section. They are almost always vacuum-packed. The last time I looked, I even found brown-rice dduk! (This was really exciting, since refined grains are on the "sometimes foods" list for me.) Store them in your fridge, and if you don't use the whole package at once, store the remainder in the freezer. Package directions may vary, but mostly you just throw them in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes, or if you're adding them to soup, add in the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Dduk is often served stir fried (dduk bok ki) or in soup (dduk gook). I prefer it stir-fried, because it soaks up sauces so well. For a quick meal, you can saute cooked dduk in any stir-fry sauce and add veggies. But I prefer to have dduk as a side dish. I also prefer the sliced dduk, but which kind you use is up to you.

Dduk bok ki with seitan and zucchini and a side salad.
 Dduk bok ki for people who can have nightshades would include 2-4 tablespoons of chili paste, so feel free to add some if you can have peppers. It is still delicious nightshade free.

Nightshade-free Dduk bok ki
Dduk hardens when refrigerated, so you want to avoid having leftovers. This makes 2 generous side servings, or 3 medium ones (for me, "medium" is the serving in the picture with the seitan, above).

1/2 package (1 lb) dduk (I like the sliced kind, but the tube-looking ones are more traditional)
1/4 C soy sauce
1 Tbsp agave (or 4 tsp brown sugar)
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 1-inch piece of ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 to 1 tsp black or sizchuan pepper, depending on how much heat you want

2 tsp canola (or vegetable) oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While it's heating, combine all of the other ingredients except the canola oil in a medium-sized bowl. Mix well.

When the water boils, cook the dduk according to package directions. (If there aren't directions, plop it in the boiling water and let it boil for 3-5 minutes. Stab one with a fork at 3 minutes, and if the center is still hard, give it another couple minutes. If not, it's done.) Drain it, then run cold water over it and break up any that have stuck together.

Heat the canola oil in a wok or a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the dduk.
These are the brown rice kind; the white rice kind will obviously be paler.

Now pour the sauce over top of the dduk and cook 5-10 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed, stirring often. Test to see if it needs anything; you may want to add a little more sweetener or a little more soy sauce, depending on your tastes. Serve as a side dish to any korean- or chinese-themed meal, or as a delicious late-night snack.


what to do with 8 cups of pomegranate juice, brought to you by POM Wonderful

By the time I was in the third grade, I had read all of the fiction in my elementary school library. The librarian, eager to support a young nerd's love of reading, recommended me to the nonfiction sections of the library that closest resembled fiction: folklore, history, mythology. Of all the books I read from the school's dusty, not-updated-since-before-I-was-born nonfiction stacks, three have still stuck with me: a biography of Lady Jane Grey, a collection of pre-1900 American ghost stories, and most influential of all, Edith Hamilton's Mythology.

One of my favorite myths in Mythology was that of Persephone. (I assumed it was pronounced "Purse-i-fone," but hey, I was 8.) No matter how many times I read the tale, I still wanted to yell at her when she was about to leave Hades's kingdom: "Persephone, don't eat that pomegranate seed!" Having read the folklore section, I already knoew that you are never supposed to eat food otherwordly entities give you, because then you'll be under their spell. Not to mention the fact that Hades had a whole FEAST in front of her, and when she finally caved and ate something, all she chose was a seed? I found it frustrating. But then, I'd never had a pomegranate. I wouldn't eat my first pomegranate for 12 more years, and when I did, I understood right away why Persephone caved and ate some. They are delicious!

So back in November, when the nice people at POM Wonderful contacted me to ask if I was interested in trying a case of their 100% Pomegranate Juice, of course I said yes. Pomegranate juice gives you all the deliciousness of pomegranates without the work, mess, or chewing. When 8 lovely 8-oz bottles of POM Wonderful's awesome pomegranate juice arrived at my door, I was really excited to try some pomegranate recipes.

But first I had to line them up and photograph them, since I'm weird and obsessive like that.
So, what to do with 8 Bottles of pomegranate juice?

Bottle 1: I just drank it. I always water down juice (I don't really like sweet drinks), so I ended up mixing the pomegranate juice with seltzer to make a spritzer. It's good stright, though, if you're into juice. If you've never had pomegranate juice or pomegranates, for that matter, imagine a darker, richer-tasting, slightly sweeter version of cranberry juice. Also, if you haven't tried pomegranates or pomegranate juice, seriously, try some.

Bottle 2: Pomegranate Tofu with Walnuts.
I was inspired by this chicken recipe.

First, I dredged chunks of tofu in cornstarch, flour, salt and pepper, then sauteed it in a tiny but of oil until browned.
The goal was to give the tofu a crispy layer that would soften and resemble a skin as it cooked. For the record, It worked, but to be honest, next time I'd do without the coating and just brown the tofu. It's easier, and no one really needs their tofu to have a skin. So the instructions below are for skinless tofu.

1 16-oz block tofu
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large onion, finely chopped
1.5 Cups walnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh pomegranate juice
2 Cups water
2 tsps lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp pepper
optional: 1 tsp cornstarch, stirred into 1-2 Tbsp water

First, press the tofu if you have time, to get out excess moisture. Cut tofu into bite-sized (or larger) chunks. Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and saute the tofu, allowing to brown lightly on each side. Meanwhile, chop the onion and the walnuts. Remove the tofu from the pan; add the remaining 1 Tbsp of oil to the pan, then add the onions and walnuts. Cook until the onions are wilting and starting to brown, stirring as often as you need to not to let the walnuts burn (but they should brown, too).

Add the remaining ingredients, and cook until the mixture boils. It will not look very pretty, but that's okay--it is delicious.
After the mixture comes to a boil, add the tofu. Now your goal is to cook it until the sauce reduces enough to glaze the tofu and thicken a bit; 10-20 minutes, depending on how high your definition of "medium heat" is. You do want some liquid at the bottom of the pan throughout cooking so nothing burns or browns. If you have a lot of walnut meal, it may thicken as it cooks, so you may need to add more water (up to a cup)--and if you want it to thicken more than it's doing, you can add the optional cornstarch mixture, then stir another 3 minutes. This serves 3-4.

If you read my edible gift post, you already know what I did with Bottles 3-6: Homemade Grenadine.
Grenadine is a great mixer for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as a useful, beautifully colored addition to baked goods. Most grenadine you find in stores is far removed from its pomegranate roots, containing little more than high fructose corn syrup and food coloring. As I said, I got the original recipe from The Cupcake Project, but I deviated a little, so I'll give you my version here.

3 Cups pomegranate juice
1 1/2 Cup sugar
1 more Cup pomegranate juice

Put the first 3 Cups of pomegranate juice in a saucepan over high heat. Bring it to a hearty boil.
Reduce the heat to medium, and let simmer until reduced by half. Remove from heat, stir in the sugar until dissolved.
Here's where I differ from The Cupcake Project: once all the sugar has dissolved, whisk in the remaining 1 Cup Pomegranate juice. Why, you ask? Well, boiling and reducing pomegranate juice takes away much of its characteristic tartness, and gives it a mellow, thicker, cooked taste. Adding the extra cup of fresh juice gives it back the kick it lost while making it taste a little lighter, all without detracting from the new grenadiney taste.

Store in a tightly-sealed container in the refrigerator. It will keep for a long time; at least 4-6 weeks.
I like to mix grenadine with seltzer for an Italian soda, but it is most commonly used in cocktails (including non-alcoholic Shirly Temples).

Bottle 7: Pomegranate Granita
Granita is basically Italian ice. It's a chunkier, icier sorbet, and it goes GREAT as a light dessert or as a complement to cookies. It is very easy to make granita, but it's one of those things people assume you spent a lot of time on. I like pomegranate's tartness, so I didn't sweeten it very much, but if you don't want it very tart, increase the sugar to 1 Cup. If you want it tarter and with more intense flavor, add another cup of pomegranate juice.

1 Cup pomegranate juice
1 Cup water
1/2 Cup sugar

Pour the pomegranate juice into a glass baking dish. Set aside.

Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and stir them over high heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat, pour into the glass dish. Put the glass dish in the freezer. Every 20-30 minutes, remove from the freezer, use a fork to break up all the ice that forms on the top, sides, and bottom of the dish, stir, return to the freezer. In 2-3 hours, you will have an Italian-ice-like dessert!

This serves 2-3 if you give each person a bowl of it; 4-6 if you have dainty little cups of it to accompany a richer dessert.

Bottle 8: Maple-Pomegranate Sauce.
The boyfriend made this, because he is a champion. He combined equal parts pomegranate juice and maple syrup, the seeds of one pomegranate, and 1-2 Tbsp cornstarch (I wasn't paying attention) to make the most delicious pancake topping I've had in quite a while.
And that brings us to the end of the case of pomegranate juice.
So empty, so sad.

I am a big fan of pomegranates, so I already liked POM Wonderful before they sent me anything, but I am an even bigger fan now that they gave me the opportunity to spread my love of pomegranate to you readers. I've noticed that POM now sells containers of pomegranate arils (the seeds), which saves you the work and mess of having to dig them out of the fruit yourself. So you can feel like Persephone by daintily sampling one seed any time you want!*

*-And then, if you're like me, you can feel like a nerd for remembering and being excited about emulating a Greek myth.


How to Turn a T-shirt into a Pillow Sham

When I was checking to make sure these things are actually called "pillow shams," I discovered they are also known as "cushion covers." Whatever they are called, I'm talking about making something to put over the little square pillows on chairs/beds/couches that always seem to be more about decor than about comfort.

I'm not a big wearer of T-shirts, but the boyfriend is really attached to his collection of band T-shirts. When I moved in, he valiantly cleared out half his closet, but couldn't bear to part with his old riddled-with-rips-and-holes band T-shirts. I am not a brute--I understand nostalgia (even if it's around a T-shirt... I guess...); I didn't make him throw them out. But they were not wearable, and therefore had no place in our closet. Then again, my slightly ugly throw pillows didn't have much of a place on the couch. So! A compromise: I turned the most ill-fitting of the boyfriend's T-shirts into pillow shams for our slightly ugly pillows (the riddled-with-holes ones became patches for his messenger bag).

Before I show you how I did this, I want to let you know that I am not a seamstress. I have no idea how to use a sewing machine, I don't know the names of stitches, I can't even sew or cut a straight line very well. But these pillows are so easy and forgiving that as long as you know how to wield a needle and thread without hurting yourself (often), you can make them.

A throw pillow
A T-shirt (size Medium or larger, for a normal-sized square throw pillow)
A crayon or piece of chalk
Needle and Thread
two buttons (optional)

Put the pillow on top of the shirt, right over the graphic you want to preserve. With the crayon or chalk, trace a line around the perimeter of the pillow, adding an extra inch to each side (up to two inches if it is a very puffy pillow).
Cut out this square; this will be the front panel. You'll notice I don't cut straight. It's okay if you don't, either. Now, turn the shirt over, so you see the back. Instead of a square, you want the back panel to be a longer rectangle that you later cut into two uneven sections. Use your front panel as a stencil; place it about 5 inches above the bottom hem of the T-shirt, and trace around it, extending the bottom lines to go all the way to the hem.
You should end up with pieces like this. Now, cut across the back panel to create two uneven sections. You want the section with the hem on it to be half the size of the pillow, approximately 6-7 inches for normal 12-inch throw pillows. You can measure this by lining up the rectangle halfway down the front panel, then cutting where the front panel ends.
I always find cutting the material to be the scariest part. So the scariest part is over! Now to create your pillow. Take the front panel, and lay it face-up in front of you. Now, lay the back panel section with the hem faceDOWN over top of the front panel, lining up the corners. Finally, take the back panel section (the one without the hem), and lay that across the other half of the front panel, lining it up at the corners. It will overlap the hemmed back panel.
It is ready to sew! Pin everything in place, and sew up each of the four sides, keeping your stitches about half an inch in from the edges. (If you can sew straight lines here, it will totally make up for a raggedy cutting job!) If you have a machine, this will take you like 2 minutes. If you're low tech like me, this will take you an hour and a half or so by hand, so do it while you watch a movie. I advise NOT watching Full Metal Jacket, as I did for one of them, because it will make you all teary, and it's hard to sew when you're all "SOB SOB EVERYTHING IS AWFUL." Try rounding the corners slightly as you go; it isn't necessary but it looks nicer. Once you're done, turn the pillow sham right-side out via the pocket created by the back panels.
The front, Full-Metal-Jacket-induced wobbly stitches and all! Don't worry, wobbly stitches aren't noticable once the covers are on the pillow (At least not on our lumpy pillows.) That's why these are so fool-proof!
The back. See how cute the hemmed panel looks? This pocket allows you to get the pillow in and out of the cover. You can leave it as is, but I find if I go a long time between washings, the back panel gets a little saggy, so I like to sew in buttons:
I think these pillows are so adorable with buttons. I now understand whence the phrase "cute as a button."

Anyway, buttons or no, you're done!
See how the sides don't look wobbly once the pillow's in the sham?

These covers are easy to take care of. When they start getting misshapen (as well-used pillows are wont to do), just take them off the pillow, toss them in the washing machine and dryer, and they're back in shape. Because they're made from T-shirts, they are totally machine washable.

Note: This isn't the best way to preserve a shirt with a large graphic on the back, since you'll end up cutting the image in half. If the image is 6 inches or shorter, though, you can use it in the top back panel, like this Haujobb pillow.
If the front image is small and the back is large, you can reverse the sides in the above steps.

By the way, Happy New Year! I don't do resolutions, because I try to make short-term goals for myself all year round. But I love hearing others' resolutions! Anything you want to share?