Good luck with Bad luck

(Obligatory Brussels Photo: Grand Platz!)

I'm always amazed at how people can continue to latch on to the belief that people are inherently bad, selfish animals. Sure, you can find plenty of evil things that people do, but they so dim in comparison to the incredibly good things that people do, for no apparent benefit to themselves.

Take the other day. I'm on the bus, and this girl in the seat across from me leaves her cellphone without noticing. The girl sitting next to her, leaps off the bus, and runs down the street to return it to her. In the process, the bus doors close, leaving her to wait for the next bus 15-20 minutes later. Most remarkably, this girl just smiled and shrugged when the doors closed in her face! Just to be nice, she missed her stop and added another wait to her, no doubt, busy morning. I love people.

A similarly bizarre kind thing happened to me the other day, when I was approached by someone who recognized me from my drivers license photo and handed back my wallet! The money was gone, but the documents and identity cards were all intact! Its so amazing how the initial tragedy- losing the wallet, is completely out-shined by the random act of kindness that followed it.

My friend Kat said that I evidently have "good luck with bad luck", and I couldn't agree more! She also made me this amazing pumpkin soup that somehow, magically, lasted me a week when I was dying without my money access cards. There are more recipes for pumpkin soup out there than anything, but this one was basically pumpkin, potatoes, shallots, soy creamer, and veggie bouillon. It was, needless to say, simple and amazing!

When I finally got my money back, I got more good luck: I finally found some black beans! You wouldn't think this would be such a triumph, but I've really been dying for them and they are, evidently, very rare in these parts. I cooked them up with some hot sauce, onions and tomatoes, and served them in a tortilla with sauteed mushrooms and corn with some lime yogurt and avocados. I was literally in heaven. Certainly the first thing I will do upon return to the US is pig out on the freely-available Mexican food!

But still, even with all the good luck, the food expenses here are killing me. I've been eating a lot of witch-sauce, rice, couscous, lentils... I need to get back into strategizing a healthy diet with a shoe-string budget. No more avacados and eggplant for me, its back to basics! But then, restrictions can be good for your creativity as well... Wish me more good luck!

More black beans: chipotle black beans and red quinoa
More pumpkin:Kabocha, Eggplant, and Mushroom Stir-Fry
More Mushrooms: Creamy Mushroom and Leek Risotto

Song of the Day: The Clash- Career Opportunities


Soy una perdedor

I've never considered myself an especially unlucky person, but there is one area of my life in which I consistently demonstrate terrible juju: losing valuables. I've lost a passport, 3 ipods, my birth certificate, class rings, cameras and countless headphones and pieces of jewelry. And this week I lost MY WALLET. In a FOREIGN COUNTRY. It was probably stolen, but I don't think that ruins the unbroken chain of bad luck that follows me around when I need to not misplace something. This is especially bad because it had a lot of the identity papers I need to prove myself to the endless stream of beaurocrats making me jump through hoops. So, needless to say, I was not pleased.

However, I'm starting to wonder if God has chosen me to lose everything for a reason. Maybe a certain amount of items have to be lost everyday on earth, and God figures I'm kind of used to it and can handle it without freaking out. Or maybe I do it to myself to add drama and excitement to otherwise perfectly wonderful weeks... and what's more exciting then being money and i.d.-less in a foreign country? On this occasion though, luck was on my side (kind of) because I had just done the grocery shopping for the week, so at least I was covered as far as food. (And don't tell anyone, but they aren't especially harsh about making people buy bus tickets here.) So I actually had a marvelous dinner, seitan steak with red-wine mushroom sauce, fingerling potatoes and sugar snap peas.

My parents often wonder how I get over these terrible losses so quickly... and while, yes, I'm frustrated at the weeks of paperwork ahead, I figure: 1) these things have to happen to somebody, 2) I could be prone to a much worse habit, say, breaking bones or drug addiction, and 3) if I spent more than 5 minutes mourning my lost possessions, I wouldn't have time for anything else.

Song of the Day: Whiskeytown- Mirror, Mirror


Back on track

La Pasionaria on Avenue de Stalingrad

I'm back! After a bout of bad internet connectivity and the loss of my camera cord, I thought VeganMOFO was going to be more like VeganNO-Fo for me, but now things are relatively straightened out.

And not just with the internet. After weeks of constant stress, I have now basically figured out everything I needed to know, from how to print at the Flemish copy shop, how to order a beer in french, where to find seitan and tempeh and vegan chocolate, and most critically, how to cook without burning my apartment down. (Although that last one took rather more attention then one might think.) Despite constant reminders of my own stupidity, my general outlook is now very sunny. Brussels is beautiful, dirty and bizarre... but certainly filled with amazing food. I don't think I've ever eaten so well in my life! The trick is to not spend all your money on food, which is something I accomplish by shopping the Sunday markets for fruits, veggies, and spices, the organic market just for the most hard-to-find luxuries (since its so expensive) and the corner bodega for everything else.

One thing I've gotten very obsessed with is soy yogurt. They sell it in huge containers at the organic market, and in every flavor under the sun. (Including plum and apricot!) I like to get the plain and cover it in strawberries, puffed quinoa "soufflé" (another amazing discovery) and a drizzle of agave nectar. Another way to use it is my own version of a Waldorf Salad: thinly sliced roasted beets, apples, and carrots with walnuts and a bunch of lemon juice, tossed in yogurt, salt and pepper. I feel like I ought to be sitting at a fancy hotel in the fifties when I eat this, and its also a good way to use up the yogurt since everything here goes bad in about two days. (I guess they don't like preservatives here? So un-American.) The same is true for fruits and vegetables, which I don't really understand. Have they been injecting our strawberries and broccoli with preservatives? Or is my American fridge just stronger?

Either way, I essentially need to empty the contents of my fridge bi-weekly to be able to eat things before they deteriorate, so I've been experimenting with simple-as-possible meals with very few elements. A winner the other day was smoky tempeh and broccoli in some garlic-chili hot sauce. This was one of the meals that nearly set my flat on fire ("smoky" tempeh indeed), but it was still quite good.

And I had missed tempeh so much. It may mean having to go to 3 different grocery stores to stock up on things, but at least I have a routine now.

Song of the Day: Of Montreal- An Eluardian Instance


Witch Sauce and Strange Things

The really lovely thing about being in a foreign country is that so many things seem mysterious which might, if you were at home, seem commonplace or even obnoxious. You glimpse strange things while walking by open doors, smell heady and unknown delicacies cooking, and hear live music playing from rooftops and basements... all of it seems to have some story that is more interesting by virtue of the fact that you don't understand it, aren't part of it. My downstairs neighbors' late-night fighting, for instance, takes on a romantic quality that causes me to speculate about their passionate french, rather than merely stomp on the floor like I probably would in the US. Similarly, the large, empty office buildings near my flat, tucked in the middle of residential neighborhoods, inspire my imagination with their dark names, "mercelis" or "syalin corp."... They sound like ancient gothic cults or obscure security organizations bent on global domination, but they probably produce antibacterial hand spray or water filters or some such thing.

At any rate, one of the biggest mysteries has been my cooking. Without proper measurements, essential ingredients, cookbooks, (and some would say common sense), I've been consistently making jaw-droppingly good meals for myself. Its truly uncanny.

Take the other evening. I decided to inaugurate the "oven" (ie, huge toaster-oven contraption with instructions ostensibly in hungarian) by merely roasting a sweet potato I was lucky enough to find. While waiting, I sliced up some ginger and shallots and contemplated a little sauce for the sweet potato... maybe with some coconut milk too? Cardamom? Hell, an apple... why not.... and while I sauntered in and out of the tiny kitchen (a feat readily accomplished in one step) I heard a strange sizzling sound, and some popping. It turns out, the "oven" gets incredibly hot, and all of the jars, plastic bags of spices, and fruits nearby were cracking, melting, and cooking. While I hollered and jumped up and down calmly removed the scalding items from their place and cleaned up the burst spices, the shallots caramelized and the coconut milk boiled down to a thick and creamy and ridiculously tasty sauce for my *perfectly cooked* sweet potatoes. What else to call a sauce that turns perfect when all hell is breaking loose, except "witch sauce?"

Tonight I made it again, more intentionally, and served it over some tempeh, carrots, pasta and sugar-snap peas. It was still suspiciously delicious. Here is the gist of the recipe, as usual without measurements, but you get the picture.

Witch Sauce Serve over roasted root veggies or as a light pasta sauce

In a small sauce/saute pan, heat a good glop of olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add in a sliced large shallot (or sub 1/2 an onion) and about 1" worth of peeled and chopped ginger. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until shallots have become soft and caramelized. In the meantime, chop 1/2 of an apple into small chunks. When shallots are ready, sprinkle pinches of any combination of the following: black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, paprika, curry powder. Cook a moment longer, then add in apples. Stir, then add in 1/2 a can of coconut milk and a dash of hot pepper sauce (if you want) and turn the heat up to high. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, then let simmer a few more minutes until sauce has thickened. Serve over whatever, but it seems to like orange vegetables.

There is something very satisfying about knowing that no matter how confused and alert I am, when making this sauce tonight there was probably someone walking by on my little street, smelling my bizarre and delicious sauce, hearing my weird music, and wondering what on earth was going on behind the curtains...

Song of the Day: St. Vincent- The Strangers

*PS- Sadly, I guess I'm not doing VeganMoFo. My internet, like everything else in BRXL, operates in a fashion that is beyond my earthly control or understanding, and precludes regular posting. But on those occasions when it is working I'll love catching up on everyone else's month, and can't wait to do it next year. :)*