Minimalist Eggplant and Mushroom Tagine

I know that when one is stressed and overwhelmed, experts would say that the best thing to do is go for a jog, have some chamomile tea, and confide in a friend. However, at the moment I'm finding that complete denial is also working just fine.

For instance, tonight, instead of acknowledging the mountains of loan deferrals, residence paperwork, and french notecards, I have been pretending that I am giving a very nice dinner party for myself with a sophisticated minimalist Moroccan theme. (Not poor, minimalist. There's a difference.) I'm also pretending that none of the paperwork is urgent, and that I'm not likely to default on my loans/ get deported/ become an utter failure, etc, if I do not complete all these things.

Luckily, the dinner party did not dissapoint. Did you know that you can make a pretty rockin' tagine with about 6 ingredients? (More if you use individual spices rather than a spice mix.) Here's the completely measurement-less recipe, for those of you playing along at home.

Minimalist Moroccan Tagine Serves 1, obviously

In a pan or pot heat a good puddle of olive oil over medium heat. Add in 1 diced shallot and cook for a few minutes, or until translucent. Add in 1/2 of a eggplant which you have previously sliced, salted, wiped off and diced. Cook until eggplant chunks are starting to brown, and add in a few handfuls of sliced mushrooms. Cook another 3-5 minutes, then sprinkle over veggies a palm-ful of tagine spice mix, found at your local Belgian farmers market. (Or merely sprinkle over a mix of equal parts cinnamon, ginger, cumin, smoked paprika, plus a little pepper and turmeric.) Raise heat to medium high and add in two diced plum tomatoes plus a handful of diced dried apricots. Cook until tomatoes start to break down, then lower heat to medium low and cook another 5-10 minutes.

Serve with rice and sliced almonds. (Mint tea would be nice too, but let's not get too fancy.)

All together, this piecemeal dinner actually turned out shockingly good. So good that I may even be up for doing some work tonight. And actually, I think that a few hours of avoidance might be just as effective as those other, more healthy techniques... not that I will ever know. :)

Song of the Day: Wilco- Wishful Thinking

A more elaborate (and also delicious) tagine:
Eggplant and Chickpea Tagine


A Beautiful Sunday

Sunday I woke up in my new flat to a strange stillness. Having left my windows open the last few nights, I'm getting accustomed to waking up to honks, shouts, and a general morning buzz from the nearby thoroughfare. Aside from the overcast gray skies and the occasional church bells, something was off. Having already earmarked the day for checking out the flea market in St-Gilles, I got dressed and headed in the direction of the metro.

On the streets the stillness continued, punctuated by the occasional bicycle bell. In fact, when I looked around, I realized there were way more bicyclists than normal. Upon walking a little further, I realized that, actually, there were ONLY bicyclists. (Well, the occasional roller-blader.) Instead of taking my life in my hands every time I crossed the streets, I was one of a throng of pedestrians and non-motorists crowding the fashionable Avenue Louisa. I started to think I was in the middle of some kind of Critical Mass.

When I reached the metro station, I had the matter cleared up. The ticket counter informed me that metros were free all day, since across Brussels this was a day without cars,(Journée Sans Voitures)! Finally in on the joke, I grinned walking the foggy, spacious streets that were filled not with crazed cab-drivers and poor-park jobs, but little children on roller skates, parents carting babies in little bicycle cabs behind them, and old couples holding hands on bikes as they leisurely rode down a hill. What an amazing experience... confirmed proof that another world is possible!

By the time I was at the market, I was jubilant. And luckily, the market itself was no let-down. Stretching several blocks in a spiral around Gare Midi, the different stalls boasted all kinds of fruits, veggies, flowers and spices, as well as tons of clothing, suitcases, shoes, kitchen supplies, you name it. I was so relieved- a few days in posh Ixelles and I was starting to think I was going to have to live off lentils. There's a better solution: just save the shopping for Sundays! I found a bunch of spices (including the elusive black salt), some gorgeous plants, some kitchen stuff, even a jacket for 3 euros. (I'll learn how to barter later, for now just seeing some reasonable prices was thrilling enough.)

All the way home the streets were still filled with bikers of all ages, shapes and nationalities, lots of whom were eating ice cream, laughing with their friends, or waiting for small children to catch up. I wish this car holiday happened every Sunday...

St-Gilles Weekend Market- Sundays 6am until 2pm, streets surrounding Gare Midi Station

Song of the Day: Beta Band- Squares


A perfect avocado, Euro-Poor Lentils

After a traumatizing arrival in Brussels (mr. cab driver, how was I supposed to know I live on a "Rue" and not a "Boulevard?") and finding my studiously nouveau-bohemian sub-let in Ixelles, I immediately did the following:

-got lost for an hour looking for a simple grocery store in the neighborhood;
-almost cried when I saw how expensive mere essentials like bread and chocolate soymilk were;
-almost cried again when I saw the first perfectly ripe avocado I'd seen in Europe (this time, tears of joy);
-proceeded back to apartment with ungodly expensive essentials, to find that it was no use washing off veggies with brown chalky water from sputtering sink;
-just collapsed in a useless heap on the floor, stuffed food into my face for about two hours, stopping only to pour cheap red wine straight from the bottle down throat;
-prayed would wake up hungover in Berlin.

Ahem. So this was day one.

Day two was a little better. I found a knife. I fixed the sink. I put some food on a plate. This was to get my nerve up for an endeavor involving public transportation and meeting fellow students from my program. Notice the lovely avocado.

Although I still got lost, still speak nothing of French except some extremely un-useful anarchist quotes, and still almost had a panic attack trying to avoid insane Brussels motorists, I made it home in one piece and felt a good deal more civilized.

Day 3 I even ventured to cook something. Finding that the only things that are even *close* to reasonably priced are lentils and red wine, I decided to combine those two things for this simple and satisfying recipe.

Euro-Poor Lentil Stew - for the girl with no measuring cups or money

Simmer a diced shallot or a couple cloves of garlic in olive oil over medium heat until fragrant. Add in a half coffee cup of lentils along with a handful of diced carrots, red pepper, and mushrooms, or whatever is handy and doesn't cost and arm and a leg. Cook about five minutes, than add in a diced plum tomato and a palm-full of herbs de provence. Cook till tomato juices are simmering, than add in enough red wine to almost cover the lot of it. Cover and simmer until lentils are soft (10-15 minutes). Serve with crusty bread (and more wine.)

What will Day 4 bring? Lord knows... but hopefully more avocados...

Song of the Day: Pavement- Shady Lane


Up-side down, Phake- Me-Out Pflaumenkuchen

On a nice cool evening a few nights ago I was walking down the street with my friend when we encountered what looked like a large crate of plums, discarded by the side of the road. Curious, we examined closer to find that, indeed they were plums, and most were still good. Now, if this were the U.S., I would have assumed that each one was fitted with a tiny razor blade and that would be the end of the story, but being in Berlin I decided to whimsically cast aside my American paranoia and bring the lovey plums home. I would make pflaumenkuchen, I thought. (Oh, how innocent I was back then.)

You see, a while back I had bookmarked Mihl from Seitan is My Motor's post on pflaumenkuchen, thinking it would be a good thing to make since a) plums are falling from the sky and b) I could impress my man with some traditional home-cooked german fare, rather than just bitching about how I can't cook because there are no chipotles in Germany. It all sounded well and good, until I started to make it.

The first problem happened in the grocery store, when I couldn't find yeast for the life of me, tried to ask a shopkeeper, and then, gesticulating wildly, dropped my purse along with thousands of euro coins all over floor. (Yeast is "hefe", in case you're wondering.)

Then came the measuring. You see, having no access to measuring cups at the moment, I thought I would try some improvisation: a shot glass! I merely converted the measurements into shot glass ounces and hoped for the best, rather absent-mindedly and cockily combining things while chatting on skype with my mother in the states. But soon, I realized that something had gone wrong. The dough was incredibly sticky, not warm like yeasted things ought to be, and getting worse by the moment. (Looking back, I think I doubled the soymilk and halved the yeast. Ugh.) Before long, I was frantically adding in flour using my elbows (hands too sticky) and cursing the day I ever thought I could bake. I suddenly knew, with frightening clarity, that never again would I spend a casual afternoon making muffins or cupcakes. Instead, I would be the stupid American who doesn't understand celcius or the metric system and has to busy herself with dropping coins all over supermarkets for small German children to find. German children whose mothers probably make a killer pflaumenkuchen. UGHHHH.

*Ahem*. However, an hour later, when my terrible little dough had not risen yet, I decided to strike back with trademark American ingenuity. I put all the plums I have dutifully cut up, along with some vanilla sugar and earth balance, in the bottom of the tin. I rolled the dough out thinly, cut it to size, and placed it on top. Then I cooked the whole thing for about 30 minutes. Here is what appeared after some flipping:

Not bad, right? At least pretty, or nothing a little powdered sugar couldn't pretty up.

As for the taste? The plum part was delicious, the dough was not too sweet and (obvs) un-risen and a little tough but had sort of a plum juice layer that tasted a bit like marzipan. And my boyfriend? Thought it was all intentional. Hurrah! Am not most worthless cook in Europe after all!

All the same though, I still have the ingredients, and 1/2 a crate of plums left... I think I want to try Mihl's recipe again, this time not fuc*ing it up utterly... maybe I'll use something a tad more accurate for measuring this time? While I ponder it, I may as well finish off the rest of my little monster creation, which, after all, really wasn't too bad. Particularly with a bunch of powdered sugar and a glass of soymilk.

Song of the Day: Die Stern- Was hat dich bloß so ruiniert?


The advantages of being confused

I've always said that one of the reasons I like vegan cooking is the creativity it inspires. Without use of certain canonical ingredients, you're forced to rethink recipes and flavor combinations and challenge your notions of what makes a meal. In a way, the same can be said of traveling. Lacking the regular faculties at your disposal (language, culture, ect) you can sometimes come up with something bizarre and wonderful. But like veganism, it takes a little getting used to.

This was especially true of me at the cool bio-market I found in Kreutzberg. I was so stoked to find an organic market with plenty of veggie options, but it was also completely overwhelming. I went with the intention of making enchiladas, since German living has made me heavily crave some Mexican food. (It just isn't done here, man!)Walking around though, even armed with a dictionary, I had massive problems finding the needed ingredients. They had bizarre and enticing items but not some of the normal stuff I live for. (A thick soy creamer that was awesome, but no tortillas or chipotles, for instance.) The prices made no sense. (1 euro for apple-juice but 5 euros for veggie dogs?) I ended up deciding to make a simple pasta with soy-sausage, just to test things out. (And to stop walking around the store in circles like a weirdo.) Among my loot was vegan chorizo and an ostensibly normal pasta sauce- papaya chile!? Is this what Germans eat? Evidently not, as meine freund was equally surprised by the combo.

The dinner, however, turned out fabulously. The pasta sauce was slightly fruity and spicy and perfectly complemented the smoky chorizo. With some whole wheat pasta and a beer I was in heaven. The sausage was especially impressive- which only makes sense given the over-availability of all kinds of sausage in these parts.

Now, by baby steps, I feel a bit more prepared to take on something slightly more complicated... maybe bagels? Or a plum-cake? Maybe I should just stick to the ingredients that are readily available before I start getting fancy. :)

Song of the Day: Metric- Gimme Sympathy


Haben zie vegetarianisch essen?

Ahhhh, Berlin. When its trying, it can really be the most charming city in the world!

I decided to make a stay in Berlin for a few days/weeks before going to Brussels, and I'm so relaxed I hardly want to leave. Its perfect weather, I'm in Kreutzberg, the coolest part of town, and I'm just starting to pick up enough German to ask if things are vegan. (Well, I'm not QUITE there yet, but getting closer all the time.) At any rate, I know all the good curse words. From what I've gathered during my cultural studies, Berliners are particularly fond of three things: parks, poetry, and coffee. Could this be my dream city?!

In terms of food, I've been spending most of my time around the southeast part of town, enjoying the various coffee-shops, bakeries, ice-cream stores and doner stands that have vegetarian offerings. But let's face it, I want real food, and meine Deutch- freund just does not eat often enough. So I had to pack off on my own for a bit, and made a pilgrimage to Hans Wurst, the famous vegan restaurant in Prenzlauerberg. I didn't take any pictures of the food, but it was marvelous. I had a tofu and pumpkin kebab in curry with rice, with a sweet cucumber-berry compote on the side. After how much I had been craving some tofu this was really thrilling. The place was also a bit of a D.I.Y. mecca it seems, with a crafts corner and wide variety of zines, along with a artistic and concert line-up. Nice for me, the menu was double printed in English and German. I will definitely be heading back, if I can figure out how to get there a little bit more efficiently than walking from Alexanderplatz next time.

I also found a cool vegetarian restaurant in Kreutzberg, but I'm not so sure that its vegan, called Naturkost Seerose. This place has awesome fresh juices (like a fizzy carrot-apple that rocked my world) and a buffet of salads and warm offerings, of various vegan-ness.
During the afternoon there is always a friendly group sitting out front, and inside there is charming music and jugendstile furniture. I dig it and I'll be back.

I have a few more weeks here so I definitely plan on straying out of Kreutzberg more often and finding some of cool restaurants everyone else has mentioned during their travels. One helpful resource isBerlin-Vegan, a guide to vegan culture in and around Berlin. In the meantime, I WILL get around to cooking something, one of these days. Something other than coffee, that is.

Song of the Day: Barbara Morgenstern- Come to Berlin