Hey y’all, thanks for your enthusiasm around my catch-up posts – they were fun to write. I’m also glad to know that you still love me even though I subject you to some of the longest posts in the history of blogging. I’ll try to do better. Here’s a start: the first week of February!

February 1st was a day of celebrations. I began the day with a cup of tea and made a batch of chocolate birthday cupcakes for my best pal’s sweet little boy Gabe. They came down to Atlanta to celebrate with a pizza party and a trip to the Legoland Discovery Center. Later that day I picked up some tasty gifts for my pal John’s housewarming party. He wins Best Housewarming Host of the Year for providing what he referred to as “an interactive dessert”:

A make-your-own doughnut bar! First you grab a mini doughnut and dip it in either maple syrup, chocolate syrup, or peanut butter. Then you dip it in one (or more) of the eight toppings: chocolate chip cookies, coconut, peanuts, pecans, almonds, double chocolate crushed cookie, crushed biscoff cookies, chocolate chips! I admit I had a few of the peanut butter-double chocolate crushed cookie combo. Mm!

I also spent a lot of time chatting with new friends, including Yu-Kai of Kai Lin Art here in Atlanta. The whole experience reminded me of why I vowed at the beginning of the year to get out of my comfort zone more often.

Didja know? February is Letter Month!  It’s a simple challenge: mail one item through the post every day that it runs, and answer every letter you receive. So far I have not received any letters, which is sad, but I’ve been dutiful about sending. On the first I mailed Jessica; on the second, my penpal Danielle. On Monday I filled a lot of bills which really don’t count but OK I AM COUNTING THEM.

Tuesday I mailed my college pal/roommate Liz to tell her about my new interest in Star Trek:TNG. Wednesday, Bitch Magazine, a sweet note about how much I loved the “Habit[at]” issue (check these articles available online: “Game Changer: Why Gaming Culture Allows Abuse and How We Can Stop It” and “The Audacity of Home: POOR Magazine’s New Paradigm of Place“) with a subscription check. Thursday (yesterday) I was bad and didn’t mail anyone, so I must send two letters today. WANT A LETTER? Click here to add your address to my private online book. Seriously – I’ll mail you!

But back to Saturday. My sweetie had a crazy cravin’ for tacos, and since he gets what he wants, I made ‘em:

Just some lil’ ol’ TVP tacos with homemade taco spice, garlicky refried beans, and garlicky achiote rice (Viva Vegan recipe) with cilantro. I think we also ate an avocado each, because that’s how we roll.

Oh, and Dough Bakery’s King Cake for dessert. Because why not?

Side note #2: If you talked to me at the end of January, you heard that I was planning on embarking on a pre-Birthday cleanse a la last May starting February 1. That was going so well til Friday night when my poor blender started smoking like the devil while blending a wimpy raw soup! Thankfully it was still under my extended warranty. SADLY, it means no raw pre-birthday cleanse… til I get another one. Cleanse can’t be done with a blender or juicer, y’all! :(

Adventures of Lua the kitten

Saturday I caught her cleaning Perl.

And Sunday?

She was found atop a sleeping Rar.

Do you have any idea, Miss Rar?

Ok, maybe a little bit of an idea.

Eventually she settled into a double-decker nap.

I cooked more good stuff, like this Aji Amarillo-marinated tempeh with more achiote rice and sweet potato fries with Terry Romero’s “So Good So Green” aji dipping sauce.

The tempeh is also her recipe from Viva Vegan – it’s the yellow chile grilled tempeh with aji amarillo. Terry calls for aji amarillo paste, but I was successful using about a tablespoon of the powder that I picked up when buying it for my cousin Laurel Ann in Portland last summer. Laurel Ann lived in Peru for a bit and says that aji amarillo is pretty essential for authentic cookin’! I’m glad I was able to find it for her at The Spice and Tea Exchange.

If you don’t have Viva Vegan yet and you like food, you should probably buy it pronto. It is fast becoming one of my best-loved books. Vegan Eats World is similarly awesome.

Afterwards, we watched some Star Trek: TNG with the cats:

Lieutenant Worf is our favorite. Didja know? He’s also a longtime vegan! And looking better than anyone else from the cast these days…

Oh hai Captain

Looking for ways to use up Sunday’s green sauce, I made seitan saltado for dinner Monday night. As Terry Romero explains in Viva Vegan, it’s a Latin American stir-fry influenced by Peru’s Japanese and Chinese immgrants. Slices of meat (in our case, seitan) are wok-seared with veggies in a tangy soy-based sauce, along with tomatoes, aji amarillo, and french fries.

Yep, french fries. Except I used our gorgeous local organic sweet potatoes.

Oh, if only I were eating this right now.

Monday I worked and got paid and Nate did the same but he had a really hard day at work (and was also feeling ill) so I took him on a date to one of his favorite restaurants, Green Sprout. He tried something new – the homestyle tofu. Homestyle tofu is usually just tofu in brown sauce, but lemmee tell ya, Green Sprout has possibly the best brown sauce I’ve ever tried. Gently sweet, yes, but also redolent with ginger and and an undercurrent of smoky spice. I had my-(ever since Leigh S. introduced me to it)-usual, wok-seared “chicken” with lotus root.

Since we were feeling fancy, I ordered dessert: fresh Fuji apple slices battered and fried and topped with sesame sugar:

Afterwards we went home and got caught up with RuPaul’s Drag Race:

Monica made an announcement and folks stayed mad at Serena til she Cha-Chaed herself off the runway for good. RE: Monica, I think Carmen Carrera said it best following the announcement: “I’m getting flooded with messages about Monica Beverly Hillz revealing that she, in fact, is transitioning and how RuPaul is still ‘allowing’ her to compete… Let me fill you in on something… Transwomen have competed in drag pageants and performed in drag shows for YEARS. People need to (stop) trying to draw boundaries on what drag is or isn’t. Drag is an art, an exaggeration of femininity, usually with the twist that the performer was born male. Period. It’s an art that is a part of our LGBT community.. And if you didn’t know the “T” in LGBT stands for transgender. Xoxo”

The fabulous Alyssa, who stole the show with her performance of drag daughter Shangela.

Also, I’m really not sure how I made this picture happen, but I think it is AMAZING.

We’ve had a lot of doctor’s appointments this week. Second post-op for my teeth, things are great. Second post-op for Nate’s nose, swell too. Other appointments. After Thursday’s to the far reaches of Snellville, we took the opportunity to stop for The Best Samosas In The World at Zyka.

Like the cupavci mentioned in my last post, I have been enjoying these samosas (on occasion!) for a decade. They’re totally unlike your standard issue bland starchy-mashed-potato-in-pastry samosa. Instead, several vegetables are cooked together in lots of spice and oil and folded into the familiar triangle before deep frying.

I like how they serve the samosas with a separate box of sliced onion, jalepeno, lemon, and dipping sauces. The cooling pinkish sauce (pictured above) is not vegan, but the tamarind one is friendly.

And yes – that’s the bottom of a steering wheel in the picture above. They’re so irresistible we gobbled them in the car!

Inspired by our snack, I made a quick stop at the Patel Plaza grocery for a few items before heading home. That’s six pounds of beans and pulses, five boxes of Ready to Eat baigan bharta, pav bhaji, and bhindi masala for Nate to take to work, two cans of young jackfruit in brine, and ten pounds of great basmati rice.

I was inspired to share my shopping trip picture by Dawn at Vegan Fazool, who recently shared an amazing haul of jackfruit, agar, fresh noodles, and mock meats from her local market here. She also inspired me to get some jackfruit for the first time, though I’ll be using Terry Hope Romero’s recipe from Vegan Eats World to make carnitas. I love what she did with the homemade pull-apart buns!

Nate and I were still hungry – samosas aren’t much of a lunch – so I threw together one of his all-time favorite meals, pink lentil curry over ajwain-studded basmati rice.

The pink lentil curry recipe comes from my most-loved Indian recipe book,

The Spice Boxby Manju Shivraj Singh.

Some of the ingredients:

red / pink lentils, or masoor dal

garam masala and ajwain seeds

Nate’s former co-worker Vikrant bought the garam masala to us from India after he visited family. He took a liking to Nate when he first started working there and routinely brought in the fragrant homestyle Indian curries I prepared – and the Ready to Eat meals, of course!

You’ll see I note “high-quality” ajwain seeds on the bottle because for a time I had some low-quality ajwain seeds that really stunk. I took a chance one time and restocked at Dekalb Farmer’s Market once, when they first started getting ajwain in the spice section, and it was a huge mistake. I always get my high-quality ajwain seeds from The Spice House in Chicago, though I tried some at The Savory Spice Shop in St. Petersburg in November and they were quite good as well. They’re also sold as ajowan and carom seeds.

a close look at the good stuff

So what do you do with ajwain seeds? Simple. Just add them to the pot when you add the rice, about 1/2 – 1 tsp per cup of rice. Some believe that they help with digestion. It’s related to caraway and cumin, but it has a thyme-y taste owing to natural thymol compounds. You can also add ajwain to fresh breads like naan and roti, or even just homebaked loaf bread.

The Spice Box is important in part because of the author’s section on “Basic Procedures”, where she explains badi (dried ground mung bean drops), baghar, how to break open a coconut, how to make coconut milk, how to roast cumin seeds, how to make curds, ghee, yogurt, tamarind water, and sprouts, and how to properly grind dals and spices, among others.

The baghar technique has served me well. Above, observe cumin seeds sizzling in a tablespoon of pure canola oil. After two minutes it will be removed from the heat and cayenne and coriander will be added to sizzle briefly. The mixture will be poured into the cooked lentils to lend an incredible depth of flavor.

Therefore, the basic definition of a baghar is thus: a seasoning made by heating oil in a small frying pan or saucepan, adding cumin or mustard seeds and frying these seeds until they pop, and then adding other spices. That little glass pan is my dedicated baghar maker. :)

The Indian grocery had a special on frozen fully-cooked pantra/patra varieties, so I picked up a box:

You remember pantra from Chopaati, right? My pal Chase turned me onto this delicious dish of colocasia leaves rolled with a spicy chickpea batter and steamed or fried.

Cooked, with sesame seeds. A bit dry but still tasty. Watch out for the green chilis, though!

My contribution: pink lentil curry over ajwain basmati with fried onions on top.

I had to hold Lua back from my curry!

A sweet little Thursday afternoon nap.

Joined, at last, by the little one.

So, today. I’m working from home on projects for Vegetable Husband, doing a little cleaning, and trying to think up something fun or delicious (or both) for tonight. Anyone going to see Identity Thief? The Jason Bateman/Melissa McCarthy dream team draws me in, but it’s getting terrible reviews. Am I in the mood to potentially waste ten bucks? Hmmm…