Friday, February 28, 2014

Paul’s Tofu Migas

Finished Migas

It’s time for you to meet your new favorite recipe: Paul’s tofu migas.

This recipe has a fun story of origin, pulling inspiration from several friends.  A few months ago, my friend Courtney came over and made delicious migas for us.  Courtney tends to be a pretty traditional cook, so her migas were made with eggs, fresh onion and jalapeno, salsa, crispy home-fried tortilla strips, and fresh cilantro.  After that mixture is cooked and combined, it gets wrapped in tortillas and topped with cheese for an outstanding dinner.  Courtney made it for me once, and I was hooked.  I made it for Paul, and he loved Courtney’s migas too.

Meanwhile, Paul and I have a friend, Jeremy, who taught Paul how to make a spicy tofu scramble with a texture that is very reminiscent of scrambled eggs.  Paul and I are always planning delicious things we can make for Jeremy and his wife Amber, and Paul started to think about combining Courtney’s migas with Jeremy’s tofu technique.  After a few trials, Paul’s famous tofu migas were born.  One night, he let me follow him around the kitchen with my camera, documenting the protocol for all of you.

Paul starts by chopping an onion and cooking it down in some peanut oil.  He chops a jalepeno pepper and adds it to the onion and that mess cooks down while he gets on with the tofu.

I think if you asked Paul, he’d say prepping the tofu right is the most critical step.  The important thing is to squeeze out as much “tofu water” as possible.  Paul does this by slicing a pound of tofu into six slabs and pressing it with a super-absorbent towel or cloth.  You want the tofu to feel dry when you are done pressing it.  (Meanwhile, chop two tomatoes and add them to the onion-pepper mixture.  I like the sprinkle some salt in, too, while Paul isn’t looking.  He underestimates the importance of salt.)

After the tofu is patted dry and the tomatoes have cooked down a bit, Paul crumbles the tofu straight into the pan.  This step gives his tofu migas that scrambled egg texture.  Here, Paul will demonstrate it for you:

Squeezing the Tofu 

Meanwhile, you need to fry some corn tortilla strips.  It’s nice if there are two of you cooking because one of you can man the frying station while the other tends to the vegetables and tofu.  If you’re a one-person migas operation, you can fry the tortillas while the vegetables cook down and the tofu is being pressed.  I think that’s what Paul usually does if he’s cooking alone.

After the veggies have cooked down and the tofu has been added, it’s time to add the seasonings.  Cholula is Paul’s favorite, and he adds it liberally to the migas.  He also adds nutritional yeast for some savory oomph.  Finally, the tortillas strips get folded into the tofu mix, we warm up some flour tortillas in a dry skillet, and, if we’re using it, we sprinkle some cheese over the migas.

Then it’s time to eat.

Everyone who has tried Paul’s migas loves them.  A few months ago, Paul and I were visiting his parents, and he made migas for his mom, me, and himself.  We had such a cozy breakfast together—it was really fun to share a favorite dish of ours with his mom.  Since then, we’ve made migas for a big group of friends on the morning after Thanksgiving, for breakfast in the house where we stayed in New Orleans, and most of all, for ourselves.  I think Paul makes migas every week at his house—his grocery list always includes migas ingredients. 

And now, we pass the migas tradition along to you!  Enjoy!

Paul’s Tofu Migas

Serves 2-3

This recipe is easily doubled, which is what we do when we’re cooking for four or more people.  Also, the cheese is totally optional.  We usually don’t add it, but if you do, vegan or dairy cheese is just fine.  (Of course, when we make this dish for vegan friends, we use vegan cheese or skip the cheese altogether.)

A special note from Paul:  “The difficult part of this recipe is getting the timings right.  We want the onions to be getting kind of soft before we add jalapeños, and we want to get them pretty soft before we add the tomato.  The tofu will take a while to dry out.  Only add the tortilla strips just before serving, lest they get soggy.”

Peanut oil (enough for frying)

1 onion, diced

1 jalapeño, diced (optional: remove the seeds, too)

2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped

Salt to taste

1 16-oz. block tofu

5 corn tortillas

Cholula to taste

1-2 tbsp. nutritional yeast

Shredded cheese, vegan or dairy, your choice (optional)

4-5 flour tortillas

1)  Over medium heat, heat a tablespoon of peanut oil in a large frying pan.  Sauté chopped onion for a few minutes.  Add the jalapeño and continue cooking.  Let the veggies cook down, stirring them frequently, while you move on to the next step.

2)  Drain and press the tofu.  I do this by placing it between two plates and putting something heavy on top, like a big can of tomatoes.  I pour off the liquid that comes out during pressing.

3)  Meanwhile, in a smaller pan, heat a significant amount of peanut oil (about half an inch in depth).  Chop the corn tortillas into thin strips and fry.  Let them cool on paper towels.

4)  Back to the veggies: add the chopped tomatoes to the onion mixture.  Stir everything together and let it cook for a few minutes.

5)  Blot the tofu with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel to draw out any remaining extra moisture.  Crumble it into the pan by squeezing it in your fists, like the way a toddler squeezes Play-Do.  The idea here is to give the tofu a texture like scrambled eggs.  Stir the tofu into the veggies, then add the nutritional yeast, salt, and Cholula to taste.   

6)  Add the fried tortilla strips to the tofu mixture.  Sprinkle with cheese if you’re using it.     

7)  Heat a dry skillet over medium heat.  Gently warm the flour tortillas by placing them in the skillet briefly and flipping them over.  Pile them on a plate.

8)  Pile migas into the warmed tortillas, taco-style, and eat!  Oh, so good…  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

This Week’s Emergency Happy List

I’ve been in a funk this week for no good reason.  Who knows why?  It could be the wacky weather (apparently, it’s winter-summer here in Texas, with alternating days of 30- and 70-degree temps).  It could also be hormones, or job-related disappointment, or even just feeling tired as I try to squeeze in some longer runs before the half-marathon this weekend.  Whatever the cause, I realized yesterday that part of the cure would be a good old-fashioned happy list on the ol’ blog here.

I know that I am very fortunate.  All the good things in life that someone could want?  I have them.  Good health, happy relationships, a curious mind, financial resources, future plans, hope—I am about as privileged as a person can be.  Sometimes, I think when I get into a funk, I have stopped appreciating all the blessings in my life, and that makes me feel incredibly guilty.  But it also makes me human.  I don’t like playing one-upping games (“You think you had a bad day?  Let me tell you about my bad day!”).  They seem petty, and they disregard the fact that having a good life doesn’t insulate us from challenge, stress, and disappointment.

Anyway, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll tell you about some things that are making me happy these days.

{ONE}  My favorite professor friend from college, Cliff, is coming to Dallas in March, so Paul and I are driving up there to hang out with him.  We’re going to visit the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, which means we’ll be geeking out together over all the cool exhibits.  I can’t wait!

{TWO}  Another Dallas treat that Paul and I always look forward to?  Eating at the all-vegan Spiral Diner.  Paul and I love Dallas for many reasons, especially because our dear friends Amber and Jeremy live there and make our visits so fun and filled with great things.  Spiral Diner is one of those things that we love to share together.

{THREE}  I’ve mentioned before that for my tutoring business, I am part of WyzAnt Tutoring (hence the sidebar ads here—it’s a business I can support wholeheartedly because they’ve been so good to me).  WyzAnt has a pretty bustling set of tutor-written blogs and forums, and this week I’ve found some awesome advice from a full-time tutor who lives in the Detroit area.  Brian S., you are terrific!

(By the way, if any of you readers are interested in tutoring and want to sign up for WyzAnt, you can support this blog by signing up through me.  Send me your e-mail address at and we’ll get you set up!) 

{FOUR}  I am obsessed with pancakes these days.  Obsessed!  I’ve made a version with peanut butter and granola that was outrageously good.  And Melissa Clark’s pancakes in Cook This Now continue to be a favorite for tweaking.  Today, I’m plotting a trip to the grocery store to make a hearty oatmeal pancake that was just published in Self.  Yum. 

{FIVE}  I’m finally blogging again.  It makes me sad that it’s hard for me to find time to blog.  I think the issue is less about time and more about mental bandwidth.

And now, onto some links for you to enjoy!

{SIX}  I have been digging deep into Charles Eisenstein’s work.  I’m almost done reading Sacred Economics, which I cannot recommend highly enough.  This week, I listened to this talk from him and loved it.

{SEVEN}  I’m revisiting posts from Ashley about shopping every other week (and then cooking with all those fantastic basic ingredients!).  I haven’t written about it much, but Paul and I have settled into a routine where I am the primary cook for us when we eat at home (my place).  I also buy most of the food for those homecooked meals, so I am gravitating toward buying larger portions of simple ingredients because I know that I’ll be feeding both of us.  (For the record, he is in charge of transportation, and we go grocery shopping together every week now.)  Ashley’s posts on a BIG grocery shop every other week and her shopping guide are good food for thought.  You can make a lot of really excellent meals using her basic shopping list.

And oh my gosh, Ashley has a youtube channel now!  How cute is she?!?  I just adore her.

{EIGHT}  Have you discovered Into Mind yet?  This blog is for aspiring wardrobe minimalists or even just-rightists like me.  There is way too much good stuff for me to list it all here, so I’ll just give you one link, a set of ideas for how to curate a fantastic wardrobe on a budget.  If I had to pick, I’d say my spending strategy is a combination of having a priorities list and a “hot & cold” list.  What’s yours?

* * *

Whew, I feel better now.  Thanks for indulging me!  I hope you are all well and feeling less funky than I am this week.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 9: Extreme Couponing

I’ve been doing some research for all of you by watching TLC’s Extreme Couponing on Netflix.  This show reminds me of why I generally don’t bother with coupons.  In the interest of exploring couponing from a thoughtful consumerism perspective, I thought I’d offer my observations, and perhaps we can have a dialogue in the comments.

First things first: what is “extreme couponing?”  It is the art of clipping coupons and shopping to take home the maximum amount of product from the grocery store using the minimum amount of cash.  One trait that all the extreme couponers have in common is that they love the challenge of couponing.  Each person on the show spends 30+ hours a week on their couponing hobby, so their time investment is on par with part- or even full-time jobs.  They are also extremely organized and plan out detailed shopping lists and strategies to get the most product for their efforts.

Because they all view their couponing as a fun activity, it’s easy to overlook how much time they put into it.  But the time spent is significant.  Even if they are able to walk away with $500 worth of groceries for $50, those groceries don’t pay the mortgage or the electricity bill.  Therefore couponing , by itself, cannot be seen as equivalent to a job.  But it’s a great complement for a single-wage-earner household.  Many of the extreme couponers are stay-at-home parents; I can definitely appreciate that their work is valuable to their families.  Beyond that, a number of couponers do huge grocery hauls and then donate the items to charity.  That is admirable, and I love how they use their talents to help others.

Now that we’ve established the basics, here are a few of my thoughts, broken down into discrete bites.

* Extreme couponers often talk about how they got all this stuff “for free!”  I find this language misleading.  If you exchanged 30+ hours of your time for $500 worth of groceries, those groceries cost you 30 hours of your life.  I think extreme couponers would say it was worth it, and I wouldn’t argue with them—that’s their call.  But don’t talk about people’s time and labor as though it’s free, because it’s not.  We each get to decide how to spend our time and how much money we require in exchange for our time.  Time is one of our most precious resources.

* Extreme couponing seems to involve a lot of junk food.  Vitamin water, sports drinks, soda, chips, cereal, cookies, baking mixes, and candy show up again and again in the stockpiles and grocery hauls.  I try to minimize my consumption of all those processed foods, so the junk food coupons do not appeal to me at all.

* I wonder how much product couponers take home simply because they have a coupon.  The show doesn’t go into this much, though one lady had a stash of cat food even though her family did not have a cat.  When I draw up my shopping list, whether it’s my grocery list or my wish list, I really try to focus on what I want to buy, regardless of coupons or sales.  It’s so easy to be tempted by marketing to buy stuff you don’t need.  Even if it’s “free” with coupons, you still have to deal with the stuff you’ve bought: taking it home, unpacking it, and finding a place to store it or finding someone else to whom you can give it.  That effort costs you time and can easily fill  your house with a lot of stuff you don’t need.

To their credit, extreme couponers also have great home organizational systems for their stockpiles.  Typically, they have an entire room devoted to storage, and they have systems for rotating goods in and out based on expiration dates.  It’s impressive stuff, no doubt.

* Extreme couponers often seem obsessed with never paying retail price.  This strikes me as kinda sad, because they have decided that their true wants must be subjugated to the almighty coupon.  Sometimes they buy products that they know their family members don’t like simply because they have a coupon.  Maybe I’m spoiled, but I’m just not willing to eat food I don’t like for the sake of a coupon.  Those calories are better spent on something tastier than bad cereal.  (Besides, organic oats are $1.69 a pound—that’s plenty cheap that I don’t need a coupon for my favorite breakfast grain.)  

* Do extreme couponers buy fresh produce?  I can’t tell how much fresh stuff they buy because the show doesn’t share with us that side of the grocery haul.  My best guess?  Not much.  While there are often in-store sales or coupons for fresh produce, there aren’t a lot of manufacturers’ coupons for products that are not manufactured.

* The extreme couponers in this show are not buying organic.  It’s hugely important to me to support organic farmers and food-makers.  My groceries are not 100% organic, but I do the best I can.  Sometimes there will be in-store or package-based coupons for organic stuff, and I try to take advantage of those offers.

* The main reasons I don’t bother much with coupons?  Because the stuff I want to buy doesn’t tend to have coupons.  At the grocery store, I tend to buy organic, minimally processed food.  I buy a ton of produce and some frozen produce, such as broccoli and blueberries.  In addition, Paul and I eat a lot of beans, tofu, rice, tortillas, eggs, and soymilk in addition to our fresh produce.  We try to get the most bang for our buck by buying in bulk, either literally from the bulk section or by buying bigger packages.  But for the way we shop and the way we earn money, coupons may not be worth the effort.  We’ll use them if we find them while shopping, but otherwise, we’re not couponers.

What about you?  Are you a couponer?  Have you watched Extreme Couponing?  If so, what did you think?

Friday, February 7, 2014

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 8: Why “Buy Only Things You Really Love” Does Not Work for Me

Hi, my name is Rose-Anne, and I’m a recovering underbuyer.

I was raised in a frugal household.  I absorbed the examples set by my parents, so I don’t struggle with overspending.  I struggle with underbuying.  I struggle with looking frumpy while I squeeze another wear out of falling-apart clothing.  Thoughtful consumerism is my passionate recovery from an unhealthy relationship with money and self-care.  It is valuing myself enough to buy what I need, preferably before I desperately need it.

Some of you may know I spend a lot of time cruising around the style blog world.  And I love it.  I love the pretty pictures, the outfit ideas, the little tidbits of life that women share with each other through style blogging.  It’s fun, it’s a little frivolous, it’s an escape.  Style blogs have expanded my ideas of clothing and fashion.  They’ve opened new worlds to me (scarves! belts! tied-up shirts!), and they’ve helped me get more style miles from my existing wardrobe.  But there’s one piece of advice that I hear a lot, and it makes me pause:

“Buy only things you really LOVE!”

I know that this advice comes from a well-meaning place.  Typically, the writer was an overbuyer who finally stopped buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff.  She learned to ask herself questions before the point of purchase, questions like:

* How well does this item fit into my real lifestyle, not my aspirational lifestyle?

* Can I integrate this piece into three different outfits?

* Does the color of this item flatter me?

* Do I already own something similar to this?  If yes, does it make sense to buy a back-up?

I like these suggestions.  They’re useful and bring an element of pragmatism to shopping.  (Let’s face it: a lot of us use shopping to escape reality.)  Trading the value of your hard-earned dollars for material goods is an act that should require thoughtfulness.  But I find “buy only things you really LOVE!” difficult, and here’s why: because loving something in the store is not the same thing as loving it in your closet and on your body.

Because I don’t love to shop and because I’m an underbuyer by nature, shopping can be kind of a wrenching experience for me.  Maybe I don’t love a particular shirt, but I need a new collared white shirt.  So I buy the shirt I’m with (get it?), and then what?  Well, that’s when the real decision-making begins.  The truest test I have for new purchases is how much burning desire I have to wear/use/play with my new purchase.  And not just the first time I get to enjoy it, but for several months and beyond that first use.  Let me illustrate with a few examples.

I Would Have Never Worn This Outfit Three Years Ago    

I bought the purple shirt in that photograph on a day when I had Target store credit, and I had to spend it that day.  I bought the shirt knowing that I liked it, but I didn’t love it.  And guess what?  Now it is one of my favorite shirts, and it’s been with me for years.  As an underbuyer, I would not have bought it because I’m frugal.  But the shirt has a lot of details that I love, and I’ve even come to enjoy its longer length.

The lesson here?  For underbuyers, it’s worth it to take a chance on something you like but don’t love at the time of purchase.

Finding Roots

Another example: my favorite jeans.  I only own two pairs of denim now, having gotten rid of all my old pairs after moving to steamy Texas.  I bought this pair feeling kinda lukewarm about them.  They’re pretty basic, but they fit well, and I justified the purchase by thinking of them as a back-up pair.  And now?  I love them.  Love love love them.  I had them hemmed after purchasing, so my initial investment was higher, but having a great-fitting pair of basic jeans is awesome.  Because they look and feel good on me, I wear them frequently.  To my mind, that makes them worth every penny.  Again: I took a risk.  I didn’t know they’d become my favorite.

Sometimes I do fall in love with clothes on the day of purchase, like my Target dresses.  They make me so happy.

Me in New Dress{Oh, I miss my short hair.}

But it’s not always love.  If you’re an underbuyer, hopefully you can afford to take a risk every once in while, maybe even a calculated risk like, “One out of every three times I like something, I’ll take it home with me and give it a try in real life.”  It’s just like dating: if you like someone, maybe you can take a chance on love.

And if that fails, hopefully you can return the purchase!  (Or just be friends.)

Are there any other underbuyers out there?  What are your thoughts on purchasing decisions?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

On Aspirational Goals

I think you all know by now that I don’t do anything “on time” when it comes to blogging, and my goal-setting for 2014 is no exception.  Before I can get to that topic, I want to look back one more time at the 2013 goals that didn’t happen in any sort of methodical way.

I think goals can fall into two categories: the plans you make and the things you’d like to do along the way.  I call that second category “aspirational goals.”  They’re fun goals, artsy goals.  They are challenges that let you learn a new skill or discover a new area of knowledge.  They aren’t required for you to make your living, which gives them a more optional feel.  They’re more like “if I had all the time in the world, here’s what I’d do with it.”

My aspirational goals from 2013 were art and cooking.  I wanted to cook new recipes out of a specific cookbook.  I wanted to learn more about van Gogh.  I wanted to embrace the sparkle and glitter in life, to move myself beyond the perfunctory and into joy.  These goals were the ones that kinda got shoved to the side in all the turmoil of jobs beginning, jobs ending, and travel.  When I sat back to think about the food and art that I was fortunate enough to enjoy in 2013, I realized that it was the people with whom I spent time who brought those things into my life.

Corpus Street Art

The person who influences me the most these days is Paul.  With him, I saw the street art above in Corpus Christi, across the street from an art gallery where we went to see one of his roommate’s pieces in an exhibit.  Paul has also brought a huge amount of new music into my life.  Hearing “Lemonworld” by The National will always remind me of driving into Denver one summer evening.  There are few feelings better than arriving in your destination city after a long day on the road.

Two new friends burst into my life in 2013, Amber and Jeremy Minnerick.  I’ve written about them here and there.  To be honest, I find it difficult to write about them.  My admiration of them is so deep that words aren’t enough.  If I found Paul because I was looking for friends who shared my values, then Amber and Jeremy are the exuberant expansion of that search.  Our time together is filled with art and food and asking good questions and appreciation.  

Amber and Jeremy are professional photographers, so there’s always a camera close by when we’re together.  You never know what will capture their attention: a sign, a leaf, an orange rind on the sidewalk.  Every walk together is a treasure hunt to see as much as possible, to be fully occupied in the experience of a place. 

Walking Together

And sometimes the artist becomes the art, like Amber in these two photos.

Mutual Photography

Admiring the Fauna

When we’re not out photographing black swans, we might be eating delicious vegan food.  It’s fun to cook for Amber and Jeremy; they appreciate good food and they are good eaters.  Cooking for them is wonderful.  After Paul and I started visiting our friends regularly, we began hatching ideas for what to make together.  We started with cashew cheese and roasted red peppers on good bread; from there, we’ve done granola, falafel, a salad with sweet potatoes and avocado, and most recently, a birthday feast for Jeremy with quinoa-cashew sliders and fiery cauliflower wings.  The sliders were fantastic—they’re in my queue to share here.  Paul came up with some great techniques for making a big batch of sliders for a party, and we want to archive his ideas for the next party.

And that’s the reason I am drawn back toward food blogging: now I have a partner with whom I cook on a regular basis.  This space is perfect for sharing our recipes with each other and with friends, in addition to all of you lovely readers.  I think I got burnt out on food blogging in this era of super-slick blogs and Pinterest.  I like the idea of gathering friends around a table.  I don’t like the idea of polishing my life so that it’s perfect for others to view.  In the words of Sherry Turkle, “Human relationships are rich, and they're messy, and they're demanding.  And we clean them up with technology."

I miss the days when blogs were more casual and less professional.  I’m somewhere in between with my blogs, and my cooking life is now in a place where food blogging serves a new purpose.  I am excited to share with you all the recipes that Paul and I have made our own: his tofu migas, our go-to muhummara dinner, our riff on fish tacos, the ice cream from last summer, my new take on giant vegan chocolate chip cookies…none of this is about taking the perfect food photo, or getting tons of traffic.  I just want to preserve these recipes in a place where we can share them with family and friends.  That’s all.  It’s a simple aspiration, really.

Maybe that’s the kind of goal-setting that works best for me now.  I’ve got my big, go-out-and-make-it-happen goals for 2014.  And I’ve got my quieter, daily-living goals.  Seeking art and good food doesn’t require setting a goal for me.  I’m always motivated to find them.  And being surrounded by friends who seek the same things fills me with joy.  It makes it easy to live in harmony with my values.  In the end, isn’t that what so much of our goal-setting is all about?    

Sporks in Line