A Quest! A Quest!

I always feel guilty playing around on Pinterest while at work. But for some reason I have no problems playing Tetris on my phone during committee meetings. Well… They’re really bad meetings. Nothing ever gets done and in the end we always have a worse problem than we started with. I can’t believe that this is what an “Adult” workplace looks  like. It’s ridiculous. There will probably be a new VP to oversee the new Dean who was installed in my office to oversee the Director who’s been here for eons without a vacation and who actually worked up to 18 hours a day 7 days a week over the summer because there wasn’t anyone else to help out. Until they finally hired me, that is. Then there were 2 of us working insane hours but at least they were less than his previous hours.

We need more worker ants! It’s really too bad that all those student workers we pay to sit out at the front desk all day are next to worthless. Maybe it’s because I’m on the wrong end of the complexion scale but I’ve never been so mistreated by anyone as I have been by the students who (believe it or not!) work for me in this office. One of my freshmen just got the Monday night shift with me and he’s still fresh and helpful. I intend to keep it that way. And there is one other decent worker but she just got married (to another student I think) and they have a baby-toddler. How sad it is that the newly married mother is a better student and more productive worker than the ones on a music scholarship who sits at the desk watching YouTube all day? Tragic.

Anyways, I digress.

Today’s self righteous college students with their attitude problems jut really bother me!

Okay, I’m sorry. Had to get that out before I could continue.

When I was working in the English Department it was always very clear as to who was in charge: Dr. C——-, the chair of the department. She actually referred to herself as the Queen of the Underworld on several occasions. The English Department is in the basement so this actually made perfect sense. As an eternal honorary citizen on the Underworld I still go down every morning to get proper hot water for my tea.

It get’s me to thinking that we’re becoming to top heavy in terms of our administrative scheme at the University. A recent conversation had me referring to it as the epitome of Vogonity with all the paperwork it takes to get a check cut or try and use any of the rooms on campus for events or seminars and meeting! Don’t even get me starting on trying to find a location for a meeting…

No. What we need around here is a grand monarch to whom everything goes and either gets a thumbs up or thumbs down. Like in the Arena. There should be no hiding that this is the case. Trying to make every thing seem all well planned and thought out and democratic will only make people more frustrated. If you’re going to be oppressive you should have the guts to be honest about it.

Every day court will be held up on the 3rd floor and the “University Monarch” — who may choose from a list of appropriate titles such as “The Academician” or ” His/Her Educatedness”– for a certain number of hours and there will be a line that follows the old ways so there’s no favoritism, merely the willpower required to get yourself into that line far up enough that you can be seen that day. A request will be made and the Monarch can ask for the opinions of his/her advisers (finance, scheduling, legal, etc.) and then make a final decision.

Guess who thinks she could be a great Monarch….

My first order of business would be to set up a real calendar of events that everyone has access to. That way no one will ever make a stupid scheduling request because they simply have no idea. Simply log onto your computer, see the schedule, decide whether or not you really need to make a request based on the schedule or petition the schedule and then, based on your decision you can either go upstairs and stand in line or you can stay in your office and focus on actually working with your students.

My second order of business would be to fire the third party company that runs the cafeteria and start all over again. I am aware that a large amount of the readership of this blog may not be aware of the Health “Message” of the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church (and most of its affiliated institutions, such as my workplace) so I’ll give you a brief synopsis, without all the politics of why some countries ignore parts and become martyrs to others and blah blah blah.

We should all be vegetarian. Preferably vegan but vegetarian will suffice. We should also refrain from alcohol, caffeine, and (if you’re a purist): vinegar, melting ice cream, baking powder (but it may be baking soda I can never remember because obviously I’m not a purist), pepper or spiciness of any kind…. and there are others but it’s not necessary to continue. I think the point is clear. It’s pretty strict in theory. Luckily there are only small groups in the world that actually keep to this lifestyle and then tend to be like the Amish in terms of how often they make it out into “The World” (which they are in but not “of”). The rest of the SDA community is pretty “OK”. Promise.

While I obviously don’t adhere very strictly to many of these rules I’m a fan of religious institutions being true to themselves in that if they are going to preach/teach something they should do it wholeheartedly. So when I took this job and found out that they were serving caffeinated sodas in the cafeteria I was little unhappy. Mostly because the last thing my Freshmen needed was caffeine to mess up their already horrifying sleep habits but also because the cafeteria boasts as being a vegetarian restaurant in keeping with our church’s message. And by vegetarian food I’m not talking something like this:

A Vegetarian Harvest Dinner, from Saveur

I’m talking stuff like this:

Tofu Scramble (the link takes you to a review from “Freezer Burns”)

My Gma used to make stuff like this. It’s disgusting and an affront to tofu everywhere.

So of course we have students who are used to having a lot of meat in their diet and suddenly BAM! Tofu scramble… but here’s some Pepsi! Not okay.

The only good thing I’ve heard or experienced in the cafeteria is that there is a decent salad bar. Not much of a compliment when you think about it. I mean how hard is a salad bar? Considering our chef has supposedly won awards for his vegetarian cooking I’m not impressed. But I do like salad. Which brings me back to playing on Pinterest at work. It’s chapel time so I can actually do that now.

If you’ve been to my Pinterest account at all you will see that I have all the GastroGasms boards somewhat separated for easy browsing. I really wanted one for salads because I like salads and think that there would be better salads. My mom happened to make me a few nice one this morning to take with me to work (I know I’m SUCH a big girl!) and I had a fantastic one last night at an employee banquet. Other than the salad  and the bread there wasn’t much to write about, SDA banquets are fairly drawn out and rather dull affairs and everyone just automatically gets up and leaves after closing prayer. No dancing. Dancing is evil. Probably because there’s no booze and we’re all just so exhausted from all those committee meetings.

But my Gastrogasms: Salads Board is pathetic. Only 20 pins. 20 is pretty lousy, especially with the amount of time I spend looking for recipes and Gastroporn. So I am now on a quest (Yay!) to try and find more salad recipes. Here are some recent additions (all of which I intend to try within the next 2 weeks):

Crispy Okra Salad

Cucumber and Feta Salad

Grilled Zucchini and Spinach Salad with Feta and Roasted Hazelnut (aka: Zucchini Ribbon Salad)

Deconstructed Caesar Salad (Also great site for additional Gastroporn)

I’m now on the prowl for more salads. If you know of any please share. The findings will be posted to both Pinterest and the GastroGasms Facebook page.

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A Tale of Two Grandmas: Why I Hate Coleslaw But No Longer Hold It Against the Vegans

Yesterday (late) morning my family was sitting down to have our current favorite meal of Banh Mi and my parents were discussing the soon-upon-us arrival of my uncle, aunt, and cousin who will be staying with us the rest of the summer while on sabbatical from Indonesia. Since my aunt and uncle will both be working at the university where my dad works for their sabbatical they will be needing to bring at least one meal for during the day during the week and Banh Mi is an excellent option.

Banh Mi – Courtesy of “Battle of the Banh Mi”

Apo, my paternal grandmother, was asking about some of the ingredients and then there was also a subsequent discussion about Vegenaise, which we prefer over mayonnaise for most things. My Apo, being oddly minded about western food products that look to her like they might contain any dairy products kept getting all perturbed over us having to use it in any recipe we would be serving to any of our Indo friends and relatives. Being me and knowing exactly why she would think it was an issue I asked her if she thought it had cheese in it. Her response is “I know it has cheese in it!”.

Vegenaise

My mom, ever the crusader for the west in our household, went and grabbed the bottle and assured her there was no such ingredient in it to Apo while I laughed at her paranoia that there is cheese in everything she isn’t familiar with. And I should carify here at “cheese” in Indonesia is pretty limited and the only kind you will see regularly are the “cheese by-products” just as blocks of Kraft “Cheddar” (of the poorly named American “Cheese” variety) or Velveeta if you’re fancy. There’s also a very strange stigma attached to this very narrow concept of cheese in our Indonesian circles which I’m sorry to say is not only cultural but also partly religious.

Apo, now thrilled to learn that Vegenaise was no longer going to kill her took a spoon and tried a bit and absolutely loved it. She’s now planning to put it on a lot more of her food. I pointed out that a lot of the things that she claims not to like because it has cheese in it she used to like before she found out there was any cheese in it. For instance we’ve had to tell her that Paneer is an Indian tofu so she’d try it because when we started to say it was a form of cheese she started scraping it off of her plate before we could even finish explaining.

The whole thing wasn’t helped by my dad who said “There’s no cheese in it, only milk”. My mom and I just about died and there was a sudden riot in the kitchen. My mom proceeded to yell out all the ingredients on the label to better inform the rest of our family just how misguided they truly were.

Another thing my Apo claims to hate is chocolate. For some reason she will get up on her little soapbox and denounce the stuff but will make herself a cup of hot cocoa nearly every winter morning saying it’s not really chocolate or some other such nonsense. She is a little more lenient on the chocolate issue than the whole cheese thing but I know she actually likes both as long as you don’t name them or point it out.

My other grandma also has an aversion to chocolate. She also doesn’t have sugar or salt in her house. While my grandma isn’t a strict vegan she does cook vegan at home, a fact that used to drive my grandpa absolutely bonkers when he was no longer able to do his own cooking. He’d be a good sport and eat her tofu scrambles and carob pudding sweetened with dates but whenever asked if he wanted us to bring anything when we came over to visit he usually asked for some sort of red meat. Well he’d ask my dad specifically since my mom’s a pescatarian.

While there can be several connections made between my grandma’s cooking abilities and her being British I should point out that she grew up in Burma (now Myanmar) and India and spent very little time in England before moving to America where she worked for the British Consulate in DC. At 92 years old, her ability to still do everything herself is impressive. Most of her food, however is not.

One particularly horrifying memory that still haunts me to this day is of a Christmas my family had come to the US for when I was little. We went up to my uncle’s house in West Virginia and everything was going great. Me being the only child/grandchild/niece had a little something to do with that.

I’d done everything right from trying to stay up late for Santa to not getting in the way of my uncle and Gpa playing Mario Golf and I was ready to attack that mountain of presents like nothing else on earth mattered. There was only one problem: I’d woken up late and as a result had slept in until lunch time.

Mario Golf (Screenshot)

Of course, they had saved me some of the nice breakfasty foods (although I can’t remember what they were today) but it also meant that I had to include some of the lunch foods into my meal. This included my Gma’s coleslaw. I don’t know what she put in that coleslaw but to this day I still refuse to eat anything that even resembles coleslaw. I remember it having raisins in it, too, and from that day on I also refused to eat raisins.

With my little kid logic I’d eaten everything else on my plate and had even offered to eat more of whatever they gave me as long as I didn’t have to eat that coleslaw. My grandma told me I was to sit there at the counter and finish the coleslaw and that I wasn’t to leave that spot until I did. With a little more clarification I also found out that meant I couldn’t open presents until I’d finished eating it either.

I tried just sitting there and hoping they’d forget about the whole thing. I tried hiding the coleslaw somewhere else and claiming I’d eaten it. I tried feeding it to the dog and the cat but no luck. Even my Gpa came and tried to plead my case (since I was crying at this point) but to no avail.

A good hour and a half later my grandpa coached me through the art of eating my Gma’s coleslaw by putting enough salt on it to down out the weird sweet taste that was engaging my gag reflexes and just getting it down as fast as possible. Eventually, the deed was done and I lay my head down on the counter in exhaustion and defeat and told me mom I needed a cup of eggnog. Stat.

Because of food-memories like this I  had a lingering distaste for food my Gma made. The fact that she cooks vegan gave me a very false sense of what it means to be vegan and what vegan food means. Of course, as I got older I learned how to mask this distaste in front of my grandma but my Gpa and I always washed whatever she gave us down with a “proper” dessert.

Apo retired and moved to Haiti to live with us when I was 9 years old, and my brother was 1, and over the years she has taught me to be less dubious of the concept of vegan foods. She does occasionally cook eggs but most Indonesian foods that don’t involve meat (which can easily be substituted in almost all cases) are devoid of dairy.

So for anyone that think vegans eat a lot of tofu, this is often true. For those who feel bad for people who eat a lot of tofu, please, don’t. We’re all doing really great over here. While I still have a HUGE issue with people who try to adulterate my artfully created dishes and drinks by saying “Oh this could be made vegan by doing [blah]” or “If you only removed [Blah] and replaced it with [*expletive*]” I can easily say that I like vegan food, especially tofu.

How I remember making Tofu as a kid:

Tofu is easy to make. My parents brought large sacks of dried soybeans with us to Haiti and every Friday night was Tofu making night. The beans had been soaked the whole day if not since Thursday night

First you teach your kids how to count and measure.

Using a really good blender (or vitamix if you can) measure out 1 part soybeans to 3 parts water and blend until it looks like soymilk.

Put Soy-Water liquid into a large pot and repeat last step until you have a lot of it in your pot. I’m sorry but as a 9 year old my skills and sight measuring weren’t so good but I do know we would make at least 4 to 5 sets of the soy-water mixture. If you’re actually going to experiment with them just use a large pot and see how it goes the first time.

Heat up you soy-water but do not boil it. There’s should probably be some stirring involved because I remember it burning on the bottom once. Because we used a vitamix to blend everything together there were often larger pieces that just didn’t liquefy in the process. There will also be a sort of foam that appears on the top of the mixture while it’s cooking. You want to skin this off with a strainer or something. You can throw it away but sometimes Apo (once she came to live with us) would use these solids and make fritters with them.

Add in a couple spoonfuls of epsom salt and stir.

At this point the tofu should begin to coagulate. Once this has occurred take the pot off the heat and begin filling your containers. We used these tallish rectangular plastic containers that fit into one another and made holes in the bottom of half of them. You put a cheese cloth in the bottom of the container with holes, fill it with the coagulated tofu mixture from your pot while letting as much of the water drain out as possible. Once you have a good amount of the solid pieces in your container (about 1/3- 1/2 full) you fold the cheese cloth over the top of the mass to cover it and then put a container on top without holes.

Then they put a cutting board on top of it and had me sit on top to compress the tofu into a block. You need to push out as much water as possible. And also, don’t forget to do this over something the water can drain into otherwise you’re you’re going to have a mess all over your kitchen. If I remember correctly, we used a large bucket with a cutting board laid across the top, the straining/presses on top of that, and then the second cutting board on top of which I sat.

Note: If you do not have a small child at home you can probably do this over the sink with two cutting boards and just press down on it.

What you end up with is fresh, homemade, and still warm tofu. We usually took at least 2 blocks and cut them up, drizzled a little kecap manis (an think, Indonesian, sweet soy sauce) and just eat it.

This is Kecap (pronounced like Ketchup) Manis

For anyone who hasn’t heard of this type of Soy Sauce before, it is magic. I grew up with this stuff and it’s used in so many, many, Indo dishes. Here’s one you can make with all your fresh tofu that Apo makes and is one of my A-List comfort foods:

Tahu Kecap

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic sliced
  • 3-4 blocks of extra firm tofu (if you’re buying blocks in the store they are probably smaller and you might need more. DO NOT USE “Silken Tofu”)
  • Oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons (it’s all to taste really)Kecap Manis
  • 2-3 teaspoons of Soy sauce

Steps:

  1. Heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a frying pan on medium-medium high heat.
  2. Cut tofu into smaller pieces. The best way is to cut the block in half and then slice across.
  3. Fry the tofu in batches gently until the skin becomes a light brown. Set aside to drain and discard most of the oil.
  4. Using the remaining oil cook the garlic until it smells really good but before they start to brown.
  5. Add in your fried tofu and stir quickly.
  6. Add in Kecap Manis and soy sauce (amounts can vary depending on how much tofu you actually have and also on how much “sauce” you want with your tofu)
  7. Cook for several minutes.
  8. Serve with fresh jasmine rice.