Monday, April 20, 2009

Join me on Ms. Veggie's Review!

To my friends who follow Cyn's Journal: I hope you'll join me on my new blog, Ms. Veggie's Review ( On Ms. Veggie's Review, I'll be showcasing new books, products, restaurants, and other items of interest both to vegetarians and to others interested in healthy living. I won't be posting on Cyn's Journal anymore, but will keep the site open to redirect interested readers. See you on!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Smit'n with Chik'n for Passover

I might not make any friends by saying it, but I love fake meat. I get a giggle from it and enjoy the taste, the texture, and the variety it adds to my meals. I understand that some faux meat foes feel that it's junk food, as highly processed as Velveeta, Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, or house-brand hot dogs.

Still, I must respectfully submit my fondness for it. I put Italian 'sausages' in my spaghetti sauce, make chili with Gimme Lean, and most recently, cooked up some un-chicken soup with vegetarian chik'n tenders.

Chik'n tenders are made by a British company called Quorn that has been selling meat substitutes in this country since 2002. Personally, I discovered the stuff only last month in a health-food store in Hawaii (of all places). I was impressed with how nicely it worked in a simple stir-fry and thought it would be fun to put it in an un-chicken soup for Passover.

First, I assembled my ingredients, sticking to what I understand to be the traditional
ingredients: carrots, celery, fresh dill, matzoh balls, egg noodles, no-chicken broth, and Quorn's chik'n tenders.

Such a soup -- you would not believe! Had I been told it was the real thing, I would have believed it without thinking twice.  The broth, from Imagine Foods, was remarkably realistic. The 'meat' -- be still my beating heart -- had all the taste and the same bite and texture as chicken.

I was surprised to learn that Quorn's chik'n is made from mushroom protein, a.k.a. mycoprotein. Who knew that mushrooms have protein and can be made to taste like chicken?

Whatever the case, I expect to be eating more of Quorn's pseudo-meat and Imagine's un-chicken broth.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Des asperges?

The hallmark of spring in California is the arrival of the year's first asparagus. I love the early-season crop with its bright green, pencil-thin stalks that are tender tip-to-tip. Our CSA, Full Belly Farm, has already sent asparagus several times and I can never get enough. For a beautiful, willowy bunch, no price is too high -- which is good, because even at season's peak, it isn't cheap.

For the most part, I believe that asparagus is best served au naturel, simply steamed in the microwave and served with a little Earth Balance, salt, and pepper. If your asparagus stems are on the thick side, pare them down with a vegetable peeler to expose the tender flesh underneath. (This is also a good way to handle broccoli stalks that you might otherwise throw away.)

When I was growing up in Michigan, I don't recall ever having eaten asparagus. Though I knew what it was, my depression-era grandparents, with whom I lived, almost never purchased fresh food because they saw it as an unnecessary luxury. Really. To their way of thinking, asparagus would probably have been the ring leader of superfluous vegetables.

When I was in college, I might have bought asparagus, but I don't remember it being available. 'Turns out that while Michigan is the third-largest producing state, only 25 percent of the crop is sold fresh. Processors buy the rest.

California, on the other hand, is the nation's top asparagus grower and it's available for nine glorious months each year. Springtime, though, is definitely the best time for it.

Question: Which fruit or vegetable signifies the end of winter for you?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pantry Dinner

Well, all good things must end and and so, too, has my month in Kauai ended. Reality for me means three things: food, laundry, and the mail. You can go around in dirty clothes not having read your mail, but all God's chil'n gotta eat, so I started sizing up the kitchen situation almost immediately.

Before we left, we had done a rather admirable job of eating all our perishables, so on returning, there was nothing to eat -- in a manner of speaking. There was no fresh food, but enough canned, dried, and otherwise packaged food to keep two people going indefinitely. This time, I created something I call the mix-in.

A mix-in has three ingredients: a box of soup, a package of frozen vegetables, and a cooked grain. For our return
dinner, I used a box of tomato-roasted pepper soup, some spinach, and brown rice. Just cook each ingredient separately, then mix them together. If the soup cools down while you're combining ingredients, just give it a minute in the microwave for a big bowl of steaming hot goodness.

I admit it: this is no big deal. Three ingredients and you're done. But it's terrific! I had to keep reminding myself that I was eating a pantry dinner. The secret, I think, is the boxed soup. Every variety of every brand of boxed soup I've tried has had a really bold flavor that pops with the essence of the featured vegetable.

This saucy little combo is only the beginning. Another of my favorite boxed soups, from Pacific Natural Foods, is curried red lentil, which also works great with spinach and brown rice. (By the way, mix-ins work equally well with fresh vegetables and steamed rice.)

I'd love to hear about other mix-in combinations, so send them along!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Would you like papaya with that?

A high point of my stay in Kauai has been has been my daily treat, a fresh papaya smoothie. Papayas are in season now and can be had for next to nothing; at the Koloa market yesterday, large, 2-3-pound fruit were going for just two dollars!

At these prices, I can afford to stock up and so my  little kitchen hasn't been without them. For a smoothie that generously feeds one, the recipe goes like this:

1/2 papaya
1/2 c plain, nonfat yogurt
1 banana
2 glugs of soy milk (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 c bran cereal, such as Fiber 1 or All Bran
4 ice cubes

Whir the whole thing in a blender until ingredients are well mixed and ice is crushed. I guarantee that you will be trying to lick the inside of the glass to get every drop. As you can see from the shape of my preferred smoothie glass, this is an ongoing challenge.

Kauai's papayas are a delicious but endangered species. During the second half of the twentieth century, papayas on every Hawaiian island except Kauai have become infected with  the ringspot virus. As the fruit is re-introduced, many farmers are opting to plant a genetically modified version. The citizen group, GMO-Free Kauai, charges that the genetically modified papaya is less resistant to disease and unpopular with importing countries. Keeping Kauai's papayas pure is a cause celebre and GMO-Free Kauai has begun a grass-roots program testing the island's papayas to ensure that they haven't been contaminated with the genetically altered variety.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Groceries: Kauai's Dirty Little Secret

With Hawaii's lush landscape, you might expect there to be an abundance of inexpensive, delectable produce in the markets here. Unfortunately, the produce aisles at Kauai's markets all look like war zones. Limp lettuce and bruised apples at out-of-sight prices only begin to tell the story.

Whether I'm on vacation or off, I usually enjoy grocery shopping. For me, shopping for food is an interesting way to learn more about an area and its people. If I were to judge Kauaians by their grocery stores, I'd say they've given up. Lemons sell for $1.99 EACH. (In California, they're usually four for a dollar.) Bananas are brought in from Ecuador at premium prices when a more flavorful local variety grows unharvested by the roadside. A single-serving bottle of V-8 juice is $2.75. Surely the merchants here don't think that consumers are happy and wouldn't go elsewhere if they could?

Fortunately, others are questioning the high prices, low quality, and dangers of Kauai's reliance on imported food. The Kauai Food Industry Forum, a group of concerned community members, estimates that 90 percent of the island's food supply is imported. Recently, the group held a conference to encourage open dialog about the problem. Foremost on their agenda is encouraging home and community gardens. To learn more, visit

Monday, February 23, 2009

Strange Fruit. Really.

I recently attended my  second farmer's market in Kauai. The first one was last June in the west side town called Kekaha. The market was very simple: half a dozen senior citizens congregated in the parking lot behind the community center, opened their hatchbacks, put out the fruits and veggies they had gleaned from their backyards, and called it a farmer's market. If you sneezed, you missed it because it lingered only for an hour or so, unlike California markets, which typically last all morning or all afternoon.

This weekend, we journeyed from our home base in Poipu to the north coast town of Kilauea, where I was prepared to see a 'real' Hawaiian farmer's market, with produce from farms instead of backyards, longer hours, and more vendors. But that wasn't meant to be, as the Kilauea market was remarkably like the one in Kekaha. Rather than lament having again missed the 'real' market, I embraced this one and in return, made a number of priceless discoveries.

The first of my take was the rambutan. This golf-ball sized fruit is red and covered with what Wikipedia describes as "fleshy, pliable spines."
 Actually, the term 'rambut' is Malay for hair, so the name is fitting.

Judging from its outer shell, I never would have guessed that the rambutan is edible. To get at the insides, you score the leathery, red, protective coat, and pop out the inside. What do you imagine is there?

Fertility symbolism aside, the rambutan's egg-shaped, pulpy interior has 
a texture similar to that of a stone fruit: think plum in both texture and taste. Like stone fruit, the rambutan also has a pit similar to that of a peach. 

The day's other notable find was the chico fruit. On first glance, I thought it might be an Asian pear or an overgrown kiwi fruit, but the inside was nothing like them. The texture was a little too grainy for my palate, but a pleasant, mild cinnamon taste. I could see pureeing this -- remove the seeds
first -- for use in cakes or quick breads. By the way, Mexicans, Philipinos, and Indians also call this a sapodilla