Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Instant Pot Seitan

Hail seitan!  (Ha!  Seriously, how about that Wiki redirect note, eh?! Oh, it made me laugh!)

We used to make seitan on the stove top.  Then in the slow-cooker.  Then in the oven.  Currently though, my favorite is made in the Instant Pot.
Chikn fried seitan with mashed potatoes and gravy.
They're all yummy, but each quite different, too, especially when it comes to the texture.  I can't really see myself falling back on any of the previous methods ...maybe the baked one...maybe.  Its so gall dang easy with the InstantPot--more hands off, less time commitment in the kitchen, better texture, wonderful flavor. 

And we adore seitan.  Wheat Meat.  It might be a gluten-free, low-carb nightmare, but it is a heavy-hitter around our dinner table.  It is hearty and filling, packed with protein and other goodness, easy and affordable to make at home, and extremely adaptable in a wide range of recipes.  
Deep dish cast-iron pizza with seitan (and frico crust!)
We like it sliced and fried with potatoes.  In biscuits and gravy.  On sandwiches.  In curries.  On pizza.  In stroganoff.  Slathered with BBQ sauce.  In stir-fry.  As chikn fried steaks.  And so on.
Orange-glazed seitan bites.
We've had our Instant Pot for approaching two years now.  I don't believe I've really written about the IP though.  I was deep in "learning-mode" and didn't want to jump on the oh-it-is-so-awesome bandwagon before I was more familiar with the contraption.  At this stage in the game I think it is safe to say we thoroughly enjoy having an electric pressure cooker.  We use every week, often a couple times a week.  It kicks the crap out of our old stove-top pressure cooker, for sure, and is exceedingly more multipurpose than our slow-cooker.

[Sidebar:  In addition to regularly making seitan, we especially like it for cooking beans, making stock, steaming tamales, "roasting" copious amounts of garlic, cooking rice, culturing yogurt, and making vegetable curries.)
A seitan dog fresh off the grill.  Ignore the fact it is slathered in the world's ugliest homegrown green tomato ketchup.
The base recipe as written here was developed as "basic" for a reason--so I could sub it for chicken in recipes from my beloved 660 Curries cookbook--but by playing around with the broth, spices, and herbs it can perform a number of different culinary roles.  
A curry feast featuring a seitan mock-chicken dish at left.
Basic Seitan  (with flavor variations at the bottom!)
2.5 cup vegetable broth
3 cup vital wheat gluten
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 Tablespoons soy sauce (or tamari/Bragg's aminos)
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoons liquid smoke
1 teaspoons sesame oil

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well for several minutes.  I use a wooden spoon to sort of knead it in the bowl.  Technically, seitan is "supposed" to be kneaded by hand for a few minutes.  I'm lazy though about all kneading though.  I just spoon-knead it in the bowl and that works out fine.  Matt kneads it on the counter for a few minutes when he makes it.  Either way, it should form into a nice big lump of stretchy dough, about 1 lbs.

There are a couple of ways to go at this point, depending on what we want to make with the finished seitan.  All will end up being cooked using the Pressure Cook function--on high pressure--for around 30 minutes.  We usually make one big seitan loaf.  It is the most versatile.
  • For a big seitan roast:  There are two ways to make a big ol' seitan roast.  If you have a silicon baking dish this is a great use for it. The seitan is restrained by the silicon walls of the dish making for a taller, denser roast.  Sometimes it is so dense it is almost squeaky.  The silicon pan isn't required though and most of the time we skip it.  We just plop the mound of seitan into the Instant Pot freestyle.  If using a silicon dish add 1-2 cups of water around the silicon dish to create the steam for pressure cooking.  If letting the roast freefloat in the inner pot use 1-2 cups of vegetable broth and just let the seitan loaf bob around in it.  Matt really prefers the texture of the freeform roast.  Pressure cook on high pressure for 30-35 minutes. 
  • For seitan dogs/sausages: Roll out the dough into a rope and cut into hotdog sized lengths.  Because the primary ingredient in seitan is gluten they're very stretchy and spring back a lot.  I like to roll them out, let them rest five minutes, and then roll them out again.  Wrap the links individually in aluminum foil and placed them in a steamer basket.  With 1-2 cups of water beneath the steamer basket cook at high pressure for 25-30 minutes. 
  • For seitan nuggies: I use my silicon egg baking dish to make seitan nuggets.  Pack the seitan into the egg cups, put the silicon egg dish into the InstantPot and add 1-2 cups of water around the silicon dish to create the steam needed for pressure cooking.  Cook at high pressure for 25-30 minutes.
Flavor options:  
For a sausage-flavored seitan, increase the spice load with 1 tablespoon fennel, 1 tablespoon dried sage, 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, and and extra teaspoon each of liquid smoke, and fresh ground black black pepper.

For a richer, more beefy flavor use the basic recipe but use only beef-flavored broth in both the dough and the cook pot.
Tucking in!  Mmmmmmmmmm..... seitan....and gravy....

Monday, September 7, 2020

Finding the Joys - A Gratitude List

I once had a health professor who told me that "an attitude of gratitude brings you joy."  That phrase stuck has stick with and served me well me all these years.  I have found it to be quite true.  It is all too easy to want for more or for things to be perfect.  When I stop to contemplate how abundant and blessed I am right this very moment though....well, I always just find even more to be thankful for.  Big things and little.  It is a beautiful snowball affect.  

Ginger, basking in the morning sun.

On the other side of the coin, when I get to feeling down I have an extremely UNhelpful tendency to snowball in the opposite direction.  All I can see are the other things that suck or aren't going well and I end up finding more and more to feel down about.  This would be the ugly snowball, I guess.  Cousin to the previously mentioned beautiful snowball.  Matt caught me doing it this morning, in fact.

Matt implemented "Fair Food Week" in August--fresh squeezed lemonade, buttery corn on the cob, nachos, curly fries, fresh-dipped corn dogs, soft pretzels with cheese sauce.

So, this evening, as an exercise in trying to snap back to my sunnier self, I set out to build a gratitude snowball instead.  Maybe it can serve as a little snow cave; shelter to tuck into when I need to remind myself that despite uncertainty, animosity, and chaos there is still so much joy and love and beauty to be found.

A few participants from Hannah's birthday HouseParty earlier this month.

I upped my bathtub game.  Lavender bubble bath.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Balancing My Marbles

I am not losing my marbles.  I do feel like I am grasping at them a bit sometimes though; trying to keep them from getting away from me this year.  I thought I was doing really good, but man...it is just a roller coaster.  That's more accurate, I now realize.  I never know what to expect anymore--from myself, from the world.

Yesterday was particularly challenging in that regard.  I had an anxiety meltdown when I finally dragged myself out of the bathtub to face The First Day of Classes at the college where I work.  I just felt terrible.  There is this pit of dread that keeps flooding my gut paired with tightness that squeezes my chest as it whispers "Somethingbadisgoingtohappen."  

This was when I wondered if maybe I was losing my marbles after all...

Johnny Depp is such a silly, belly-pets loving gal.  She knows how to make me smile.

Because I am not like this.  I am a ray of sunshine who is always looking for the next adventure around the bend, full of pep and zest for life.  I'm never bored.  I'm never lonely.  I'm never anxious.  I am almost relentlessly optimistic.  This is not me....and I am caught so off-guard by these feelings.  I usually cope so well with whatever is happening.

But, I'm having a hard time, I guess.  The low-grade-but-ongoing stresses of this year have cumulatively caught up with me.  Pandemic stuff, work stuff, homeowner stuff, humanity stuff, election stuff...  The first day of classes was just a tipping point.  

Having Ginger on my lap is like going to therapy.  She is basically a professional.  I can't imagine how people without pets do it.

I managed to swallow my face-the-day nausea and called Matt for a "pep talk" instead.  Bless him.  As we visited the tension in my chest released and I could breathe deeply again.  I stopped crying and finished getting dressed and ready for work.   ...where I only cried once.  

In search of game-playing novelty we set up a badminton net last weekend.  Neither of us knows where it came from, but it was in the garage so...   I can't imagine how people without supportive spouses do it either.

I haven't even been sure if I wanted to talk about the way I'm feeling either, aside from with Matt.  I don't really know what to say to my friends or sisters.  I don't mean to cause concern and lots of people are having a hard time right now.  How can I ask them to help prop me up?  My case is nothing special.  In fact, I feel ungrateful for even having these hard-times feelings.  I have more blessings in my life than sorrows...so who am I to feel so distressed?  

Writing is what I do though.  It is how I process, reflect, and self-soothe.  So I wrote in my journal.  I wrote a letter to a friend.  And then I wrote this.  When I got home last night Matt had (1) flowers, (2) a pint of ice cream, and (3) a Moscow Mule waiting for me.  Then we danced around the living room to You Are The Best Thing by Ray LaMontagne.  

Ginger is not happy that I'm out of the house 8 hours a day now.

Matt told me that immediately following our pep talk he read about a Pulse survey from the U.S. Census that shows that 1 out of 3 Americans are currently reporting anxiety and depression symptoms compared to 1 out of 10 last year.  That's quite a jump.  I guess mine is a fairly normal reaction to such a chaotic time.  I am in abundantly good company.  That doesn't make me feel any better, exactly, but is sort of helpful context.  

I am officially a daily mask wearer now.

How is it September already?  I can barely wrap my mind around it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Back to the Library

When the Library Director told me to start working from home—March 11th—I never expected to still be working from home now—August 11th.  I had no idea what we were dealing with, I guess, what we were in for.  I figured I’d probably just be home for the remainder of the Spring semester…but then summer came and I was still there…and now Fall semester is calling.  

Hanging with the potatoes and tomatoes.  8/5/2020

I started coming into the library one day a week—Thursdays—on April 23rd.  The doors were still locked.  The lights were still off.  I was the only one there so I could blast my tunes as I plowed through a mountain of work that couldn’t translate to the remote work environment.

Last Tuesday—August 4th—I started going back to the library, half days, along with most of my library colleagues. Next week—August 17th—I’ll resume full working days there.  

I love my "office" being the backyard.  My lap is even big enough for both cat and laptop.  8/10/2020

We're still closed to users (except by appointment) as we get caught up with a variety of backlogged library things, as well as somewhat frantically preparing the library space to resume occupancy—measuring and moving furniture, having Plexiglas and other barriers installed, removing excess computers and chairs, setting up hand sanitizer and wipe stations…and on and on and on.  There are so many things to think about and plan for.  Classes start in 20 days.  Students are already trickling back to campus.

Johnny follows me around the house and posts up in whatever chair is most convenient for me to pet her while I work.  8/3/2020

Friends and family keep asking how I feel about the end of working from home, reopening the library, the fall semester, etc. 

It is a mixed bag, of course.   It is certainly easier to do many facets of my job from my office, so that will be nice.  I miss the students, particularly the dozen or so that work for me in the library.  I love watching them mature, grow, learn.  Plus, I know how important every penny is to the average college student and I’m glad I can put them back to work, if they so desire.  I enjoy the daily social engagement with an interesting and diverse crowd and I have sure been short of “other people” these past months at home.  

Mostly though, I feel like I am waking up from a pandemic hibernation period.   And I don’t think I like it, overall.  

Grilling with Matt.  We have a grand ol' time together regardless of what's going on in the rest of the world.  8/6/2020

Hibernation was so much easier.  I still missed my “real life,” but since that isn’t available the substitute was pleasant and simple.

I didn’t have to wash and sanitize my hands “all the time.” I didn’t have to wipe down “frequently touched” surfaces and objects.   I almost never had to wear a mask, except on rare occasions like donating blood.  On an average day, the only person I saw was Matt.  I watched my county’s (and state’s) numbers rise (and fall... and then rise again dramatically), but felt personally quite secure at home.  It was easy to control my environment.  

Boy!  Is all that about the change!

Working on interlibrary loans by the flowers, basking in the sunshine!  8/10/2020

It feels like I am about to enter “the real world” that so many—maybe most—people I know have been navigating for months already.  I am a stranger in a strange land, a newbie in a world of pros.  Matt encouraged me every day last week when I returned from the library worn down with all the logistics of re-opening and getting classes up and rolling again.  I know how adaptable I am and that, like everyone else, I’ll “get used to it,” to the “new normal,” as they say.  (ugh.)

I know I will.  I just don’t want to.  Instead, I just want to go back to (metaphorical) sleep again until it’s all over.  I realize that’s neither fair nor realistic, but that's how I feel.  Oh well.  Ready or not, here I come!

Ginger insists that JD lick her head every single day.  Then she usually give Johnny the left hook to let her know the grooming session is over.  8/6/2020

I haven't broke the news to Ginger and Johnny yet.  They're gonna be bummed I'm not there to hang with every day...

Update 8/14/2020:  My full-time start date got pushed back to the 24th.  The cats get a slight reprieve!

Monday, August 10, 2020

How Does The Garden Grow?

The grasshoppers have been pretty terrible this year.  They’ve got some epic numbers.  Most of of our broad leaved plants are rather lacy looking.  There is not one strawberry plant that hasn't been at least nibbled around the edges.  I’ve heard other locals say it was worse last year, but not for us.  They’re everywhere at our place this summer!
Pretty flower, pesky hopper.  7/10/2020
Walking across the yard they scatter in a confetti-like spray as they flee.  Riding bicycle Matt has found himself with several grasshopper stowaways clinging to his back or shorts.  Ginger likes to stalk them through the grass, finding their unpredictable springiness an extra fun challenge.  All the more so now that so many of them can fly.  It is hilarious to watch.  As with the voles and mice, we cheer her on.  (Have I mentioned that I spanked her the first time she brought me a bird and ever since she’s just gone for small mammals and bugs?)
The grasshoppers have sure enjoyed the rhubarb leaves, well, all the leaves, really.  7/21/2020
My recent ode to eggplants made me think maybe I’d write a more comprehensive garden report.  
A bright and green garden scene, looking out from the patio.  5/25/2020
Despite the hungrily destructive efforts of the grasshoppers, our garden is pretty stellar this year.  We ate peppers and eggplants significantly earlier in the season  than we ever have before.  The tomatoes are loaded.  LOADED.  We've already enjoyed a few.  The eggplants grow just about faster than I can keep up with...but I am keen for the challenge!
Speckled Romans Tomatoes are just as tasty as they are beautiful.  8/3/2020
Matt keeps trying to train the squash vines so they don’t just smother all their carrot and pepper neighbors.  (Though it was pretty amusing to see how the butternut squash was trying to wrap tendrils around our fall crop of carrot sprouts when they were all of three inches tall.  Ha!)  Barring the unforeseen, this is going to be our best squash year ever.  Convenient timing since our Farmer's Market was cancelled this summer.  We usually supplement our winter supply there.
Grilled garlic scapes (and other yummy things...)  6/11/2020
We grew shallots for the first time and were quite pleased.  We got a swell haul given the limited amount we planted.  Dozens of pounds.  They were really nifty-looking plants to watch grow.  They reminded me on aloe or some other succulent.  
The first harvest of shallots, trimmed and ready for storage.  7/26/20
The advice Matt got from a local garlic farmer has paid off HUGELY!  The heads of garlic we got this year are just fan-foo-goo-tastic.  They're both giant and flavorful.
When a recipe calls for "one clove of garlic" I am not sure they had monsters like this in mind.   7/27/2020
We’ve got boatloads of Thai basil and spicy peppers.  I am in pepper heaven.   We're growing the cutest little sweet peppers called Lunchbox Peppers.  They're fantastically bite-sized.  I’ve made three batches of hot sauce already and have at least a quart chopped and frozen for winter use.  I was even able to gift some to a friend without feeling like I was going to short myself for winter.  She wanted to make a couple batches of the sweet Thai-style hot sauce.
Aren't they cute?!?!  6/28/2020
The strawberries just kept going and going and going, though the raspberries aren’t quite as numerous as last year.  The currants got some sort of worm this year so I was only able to save a quart of them.  I left the rest for the birds…and the worms, I guess.
We had so many strawberries we ate  and ate and ate them fresh...and baked pies...and still had plenty to freeze for smoothies. 6/26/2020
It is a pretty spectacular garden season and there is so much yet to go.
Matt and I love watching the sunset over the garden in the evening.  The light is just magical. 6/12/2020
The neighbors’ tree being gone certain helps. 
Before and After - June 2020
The fact that Matt and I are almost never gone certainly helps.
Matt is pretty darn happy with his greenhouse.  8/5/2020
Using an actual grow light instead of florescent tubes in our seedling nursery certainly helped.
Pepper seedlings, which we'd grown indoors, hardening off in the greenhouse before we transplanted them out into the garden.  5/2/2020
For the past three or four years we’ve also been upping our flower game in the garden.  We scatter wildflower mixes, sunflower, and marigold seeds.  We’ve got a couple patches that reseed themselves now.  The Bachelor Buttons were especially lovely this year.  We buy a new perennial or two.  This year we added two more Baskets of Gold.  We were delighted when our hollyhock from last year bloomed.  Delighted and surprised, because it was a "Double Hollyhock" and we didn't even know that was a thing.  Our clematis, now in its fourth summer, made quite a few blooms this year, even with the grapes perpetually trying to invade its space.  
Hollyhocks 7/13/2020
I used to think growing flowers was, well, not quite pointless …but close, since they don’t make food for the effort.  This is such silly logic to me now.  First of all, their beauty would be reason enough because they really require minimal effort.  Secondly, flowers bring the pollinators around and that helps all the plants, including the food-producing ones.  I couldn’t begin to describe or name all the weird different types of bee, wasp, and fly I’ve seen buzzing around the garden.  We love to sit behind the screen of sunflowers that grows along our patio and just watch all the traffic.  Its nuts!  Some mud daubers lives in the woodpile.  Swallowtail butterflies have been a frequent visitor.  I saw a leafcutter bee flying awkwardly across the yard carrying a piece of leaf significantly larger than itself.  Plus, like I said, flower are pretty and I like looking at them.
The Wall of Flowers along the patio.  The sunflowers are open now, too.  7/21/2020
One of the apple trees died, inexplicably.  The other one is fruiting though.  Oddly enough--and just as Matt was threatening to cut them all down since they never produce and are in their seventh season--our peach tree is studded with tiny little peaches this year.  Same for the plum tree.  I've gotten to eat a few of the latter and they were juicy and sweet as all get out.  The trees had been terribly plagued by neighborhood deer which are no longer a problem.  I guess they just needed time to recover from their trauma.  
Peach blossoms.  4/29/2020
We discovered that Johnny likes green peas.  She prefers them cooked, but raw will do of if that’s what hits the floor…they're just trickier to chew.  We had a swell crop this year and ate creamy potatoes and peas a couple times.  We have peas frozen and squirreled away for winter, too.  I discovered this wonderful garlicy, pea-and-lemon risotto for the InstantPot and made that several times while the peas were fresh.  One of my favorite recipes for Curry Feast is a pea-and-cabbage combo.  I just had some leftovers for lunch, in fact!   As far as potatoes go, we only planted fingerling potatoes this year and they are divine.  So creamy and buttery and tender.  We've only dug a few hills, but they've been quite prolific, too!  Huzzah!  We sure love potatoes.
Peppers will always be my favorite vegetable, but eggplant are my favorite to grow.  8/8/2020
Ginger remains Queen of the Garden.  She spends sizable portions of her day lounging in the Raspberry Fortress.  (Sometimes when she comes inside she has dried raspberry smashed into her fur and between her toes.  This cracks me up.)   She’s also a pretty big fan of the patio-adjacent wildflower patch.  Like a bison in a wallow she always manages to kill one area of vegetation there with all her flopping, writhing, and napping.  She often spends all night on her adventures out there.  She never wants to come inside. 
Streeeeeeetching out on the Garden Sink.  She has a few places where she likes to sit and observe her little Queendom.  7/4/2020
I think we were quite on the mark to say it is our best garden to date.