This weekend, Daniel and I made a day trip to Ocean Springs with three items on our agenda: 1) a remarkable pitcher plant bog in the Desoto National Forest, 2) good food, and 3) pelican watching. I’m happy to report it was a success – and just the getaway we needed.
Locals call this extensive pitcher plant bog “Buttercup Flats,” and I can see why.
The vegetarian samosas at Mosaic Tapas were delicious, and it was perfect weather for an al fresco lunch.
The pelicans who live around this pier (near the Shearwater Bridge) have a delightful habit of roosting and preening on these posts. And their preening moves had us laughing out loud.
(The photo of the pitcher plants and the close-up photos of the pelicans were taken by Daniel.)
As much as I love to eat Indian food, I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of cooking it. Living in a town with no Indian restaurants, however, leaves me little choice. After I heard Anupy Singla interviewed on NPR (back in the fall, on Diwali) about her cookbook, Vegan Indian Cooking, I decided it was time I learned. I ordered the cookbook, rounded up some cardamom and coriander, and – finally – got started. What better dish to start with, I thought, than the ultimate comfort food: mattar paneer (except here, the paneer is not cheese, but baked tofu). Sure, we’ll happily drive to Ocean Springs or Gulfport for lunch at Good Karma Café, and we often eat at Taj Mahal when we’re in New Orleans, but now I can have it at home, too.
Baking the tofu beforehand gives it a paneer-like consistency, Singla says, and she’s right. I followed her directions to place the sliced extra firm tofu on a baking sheet lightly sprayed with olive oil, sprinkle the top sides with a teaspoon of garam masala (I cheated and bought a spice blend, rather than make my own), and bake at 350 on the top rack for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, I took out the pan, flipped the slices, sprinkled on more garam masala, sprayed a bit more olive oil, and put it back in for another 15 minutes. When it came out, I cooled it for a few minutes, then sliced it into cubes.
Singla’s recipe for Vegan Mattar “Paneer” follows:
2 T oil
1 heaping tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
1 black cardamom pod
1 large yellow or red onion, peeled and minced (2 cups)
1 (2-inch) piece ginger root, peeled and grated or minced
6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and grated or minced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and diced (3 cups)
3 T tomato paste
2-4 green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chiles, stems removed, chopped
3 cups water, divided
1 heaping tsp garam masala
1 heaping tsp coriander
1 tsp red chile powder or cayenne
2 tsp coarse sea salt
1 pound fresh or 1 (16-ounce) bag frozen peas
1 (14-ounce) package extra-firm tofu, baked and cubed (see above)
2 T chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
1. In a large, heavy pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
2. Add the cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and cardamom and cook until the seeds sizzle, about 30 seconds.
3. Add the onion and cook until browned, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the ginger root and garlic. Cook for another minute, stirring to avoid sticking.
5. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, chiles, 1 cup of the water, garam masala, coriander, red chile powder, and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
6. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and cardamom. Blend the mixture, either by using an immersion blender or by transferring it to a blender or food processor. (This step is not necessary, but it adds smoothness to your final dish.)
7. Add the peas, baked tofu cubes, and remaining 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes uncovered.
8. Garnish with the cilantro. Serve with brown or white basmati rice, roti, or naan.
We were delighted with this dish and have made it several times. And while we happen to love it with tofu, we’re sure the real “paneer” would be delicious, too.
I knew I was stressed last semester when simply getting dressed – putting together outfits and trying to remember what I’d worn the week (or day) before – was hive-inducing. It’s not that my options were limited. And my closet was certainly organized (thanks to a previous year’s organizing blitz). I just couldn’t see how the pieces were working together, and the result was unwelcome added stress.
Enter Stylebook, an iPhone app I’d read about and been too lazy to try. (Taking pictures of every piece of clothing I owned seemed exhausting.) But when a nasty cold had me stuck at home for several days after the holidays, I decided to take it on. And as I began the painstaking process of photographing my clothing, I realized that I’d been hoarding clothes like crazy. I still had clothes from college and my first year of working – when I had no definable style whatsoever and tended to err on the frumpy side too keep from looking too young (!). So I made a decision: if I couldn’t motivate myself to photograph and catalog the item, it went in the donation pile.
It was a little scary for this hoarder to get rid of so much at once, but when I started using the app’s “Look” function to put together outfits, I realized I still have plenty of options. Suddenly, my closet could breathe. (And that’s no small feat in such a tiny space.) As I took out each piece of clothing, I checked for holes, tears, stains, and pills, and I invested in a multipurpose sweater comb and fabric spray to keep my clothes looking (and smelling) like new.
I’m also determined to eliminate (or at least reduce the frequency of) the work-week wardrobe crises. I’ve found the calendar function in the app to be a useful planning tool; plus, I can see what I’ve worn recently. There’s also a handy packing list function that will, I hope, preempt my packing panics. Was this editing and organizing process tedious? Yes. Was it worth it? For me, absolutely. Here’s to a year of dressing and living well.
We rang in the new year with one of our favorite meals: cusheri. (Think spaghetti, but WAY better.) Also spelled kushari, this is a popular Egyptian dish sold by street vendors, and I often wish, as I pull out nearly every pot I own to make this dish, that we had street vendors selling it here. (Not pictured above: rice cooker, colander, stainless steel bowl.) My friend and colleague, who is a masterful chef and particularly good at Mediterranean fare, kindly shared this recipe with me.
16 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 ½ Tbs. chopped garlic
½ c. water
2 Tbs. vegetable bouillon*
2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 ½ tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
½ tsp. black pepper