Garlic-Orange Tofu and Peanut Cucumbers with Rice

When I glance out the window this morning, it looks like it’s raining. But I look again and it’s still ash. We’ve been raining ash for the last couple days as the air quality went from clear blue skies over Labor Day weekend to a dramatic sweep of heavy smoke on Monday evening as several fast-moving forest fires have been burning in the cascade mountains and now closer near the edge of town to our east. Our hens have been out foraging as usual but I worry about their little lungs. Our teenage kitten, a truly needed and lovely new addition this summer, has been upset at the eery light the last couple of days.

I’ve been back to morning meditation lately first thing before I get out of bed or turn on the light, and this morning’s had me expressing gratitude for our air purifiers, those ‘noise machines’ that I have routinely tsk-tsked since William insisted on them in the last couple years. And also gratitude for a safe home. The alarm of LEVEL 3–GET OUT NOW evacuation alerts going off on my phone throughout yesterday afternoon for the northeast edge of the city, truly a ways off from us but too close for comfort, brought that gratitude home.

Today at least we got a sunrise, smoky as it was. Yesterday was just a dark red Apocalyptic haze, which is becoming the norm in Western Oregon in the last 36 hours.

We can still smell the smoke inside even with a couple good air purifiers so I’ve been adding turmeric to all my meals, taking or eating extra vitamin C and vitamin E-rich foods (hazelnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, leafy greens), and adding tulsi / holy basil, and licorice and marshmallow roots to my tea blend. The first three are taken with the idea of combatting the oxidative stress that comes with particularly toxic wildfire smoke particles. If I had a particularly vitamin-C rich food or herb on hand such as amla fruit powder, camu camu powder, or rose hips, I’d use that instead of just plain supplemental vitamin C. The last two roots of marshmallow and licorice are for soothing irritated internal tissues, such as the lungs and digestive lining. Even though I’m staying inside and out of the terrible air, this stuff is incredibly potent. Turmeric particularly helps my smoke headaches.

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While I’ve been meaning to share more about digestive health in this space over the next few days—since this is an area that my previous survey indicated is definitely a need. But first, I think we can all use a really good meal that’s refreshing, comforting, and enjoyable while summer is still here.

I know many individuals avoid tofu because they’re unsure of how to prepare it, or when they’ve tried to in the past the texture is all wrong. I was there for a long time (probably 10 years since I first attempted tofu until I was comfortable cooking / eating it). So I’ve outlined a little more detailed way to prepare it. This is my go-to method and yields the texture we prefer.

Then the tofu is paired with finely chopped cucumbers tossed and marinated in the same dressing as the tofu is marinated and cooked in, and enjoyed with simple brown rice. The result is a simple concept but the taste is truly rich and incredible. Hope you’re staying safe in whatever way where you are, and if you tend to avoid tofu because you’re unsure how to cook it, give this recipe a try.

Garlic-Orange Tofu and Cucumbers with Rice, serves 4
inspired by Anna Jones in the The Modern Cook’s Year

16 oz. / 453 grams firm tofu, drained

dressing:
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tbs. reduced-sodium tamari
2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar or raw apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
1 Tbs. honey or maple syrup
a pinch of red pepper flakes
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. ground coriander
the zest and juice of 1 unwaxed/organic orange

1 cup / 190 grams brown rice
2 cups / 470 ml water
1 ¼ lb. / 600 grams / ~4 cucumbers
a few pinches of salt
¼ cup /35 grams peanuts, toasted
a small handful of fresh basil, minced

  • Slice the block of tofu in half lengthwise, wrap in paper towels like a birthday gift, and then stack the wrapped tofu between two cutting boards. If you have something heavy in your kitchen, put it on top of your cutting board as a weight. (I use my giant Shakespeare textbook). Leave to press out the liquid for about 30 minutes.
  • While the tofu is pressing, whisk together the dressing ingredients.
  • When the 30 minutes is up, unwrap the tofu and slice it into equal size cubes (I get about 48), and combine it with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the dressing in a container with a leak-proof lid. With the lid on, give it a few shakes to immerse in the dressing and then chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to a day. More time will allow for more flavor to develop.
  • Once the tofu has marinated, turn it and its dressing onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees F for about 40 minutes, flipping it over halfway through.
  • After the tofu goes in the oven, cook the rice in a medium pot on the stovetop. Add 2 cups of water, 1 cup of brown rice (ideally pre-soaked but simply rinsed and drained if not), and bring the pot to a boil. Once it boils, turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook undisturbed for 40 minutes.
  • While the rice and tofu are cooking away, dice the cucumbers into small (~1-cm) pieces. Place the slices in a colander that’s over a sink or another bowl, and sprinkle and toss through a few pinches of salt. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes to release some of their liquid.
  • Then take your (clean) hands or a clean kitchen towel and press the cucumbers to remove any extra liquid that may have been released. Put the cucumber in a bowl and add ¼ to 1/3 cup of the remaining dressing. Add more to taste. Scatter over and stir through the toasted peanuts.
  • Once the tofu and rice timers are done, remove them both from the heat and serve with the marinated cucumbers. Sprinkle atop some fresh minced basil leaves if desired.  

Quinoa + Winter Squash Bowl with Cumin + Lime

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Each year at the beginning of the holiday season, I try to reflect on the people and experiences for which I am grateful. This past week, I’ve been selecting snippets to share, either directly, over on Facebook, or here in this space. When I reflect on the objects that matter most in this life, there’s only a short list: My bible, my wedding ring, my running shoes. Perhaps another day I’ll share about the first two, but this reflection and recipe are about the symbolism of the shoes.

 

Each pair is temporary, special only for a time and then easily replaced. Once done, they get jammed into our tiny front closet, worn out completely in garden work, and eventually tossed in a donation bin once a sizeable pile has accumulated. I tend to treat each pair extra nice until it hits 400-500 miles and then all emotional attachment is heaped on the next. The shoes I’m currently running in are neon-orange and turquoise, and they contrast with whatever I tend to throw on above. Depending on the day, I can pull off looking like I’m late to a one-act circus show.

 

I started running within the first couple weeks of moving into my freshman dorm in college, and over the many years since, I’ve come to know each of the places I’ve lived and visited in my running shoes. I have run 5am dim streets in Limerick, jet-lagged, no phone, no idea where I was going, no one in the whole world knowing my location. I’ve run the streets of La Grande, all hours of the day and night, just to feel alive and at peace. I’ve gotten to know the nooks and crannies of Corvallis, the suburbs of Dublin north and south, the pear orchards and cattle ranches of Southern Oregon’s Phoenix and Eagle Point, the Christmas tree farms and nurseries of Sandy, the angry farmer’s dogs on the outskirts of Albany, the oak savannah, communter-town streets and horse farms of Wilsonville. There was a month when I ran the rural-ish Keizer roads, and then a school-year of running all the west-side neighborhoods of Roseburg. It’s safe to say I’ve seen a good portion of Oregon in my running shoes, both the streets, forested and mossy trails, the beach, and the infinite farm roads. And still, there are all the travel cities I’ve gotten to know in between.

 

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Far more than what I’ve seen in these shoes and the ones that have come before, is what they’ve made me feel: Release from the worry and guilt that makes up my personality. Clarity; knowledge of what sits right in my soul. Cleansing from anger. Cleansing from feeling anything at all. I’ve caught up with good friends and high-fived others out on the paths. I’ve been visible and seen–a role model to the neighbors who knew me as “that runner girl,” and my current neighbor, a 55-year-old bachelor, who frequently runs out the door in his skivvies(!!) to ask, How many miles today? I’ve skipped biology lectures and headed for the trails instead. I’ve conjugated Spanish verbs over and over in my head, and I’ve run faster each mile, using my anger over a guy to fuel each step. I’ve pumped up the techno-dance-treadmill-tunes, and I’ve taken all my closest girl friends out for one last run as a single lady. I’ve listened for the first sounds of the birds in the morning and taken in countless sun rises that never fail to leave me astonished and breathless at the beauty of this world. I’ve meditated on simply living and breathing and just plain being a better me.

 

These shoes have enabled me to find out who I am, to push myself beyond the comfortable, to accomplish things, to release my competitive spirit. They’ve been a way to spend happy weekends with William–and most of all, they’ve helped me to develop a better relationship with my body, to be able to listen and nourish it with the foods and nutrients it needs.

 

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This recipe is one I’ve eaten countless times these past few weeks. After a long or hard run, I tend to go through phases where I desire certain foods. I’m of the belief that my body is either telling me I need to eat those foods because of their nutrients–or I’m simply crazy. Perhaps, a little of both. ;) Eggs, quinoa, and winter squash have been on repeat lately and like many of my favorite recipes, this one came about when I grabbed a random bunch of ingredients from the fridge in a post-run hunger. It was perfect from that first time to every subsequent helping I’ve made since.

 

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Quinoa + Winter Squash Bowl with Cumin + Lime, serves one
1 Tbs. cumin-lime dressing, see below
1 jalepeño or slightly spicy pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1- 1 1/2 cups roasted winter squash, chopped
2 eggs
large handful of spinach or other greens
1 cup cooked quinoa
more dressing, to taste
  • In a medium-sized skillet, heat 1 Tbs. dressing on medium high. Sauté peppers for 5-10 minutes until soft, and then add roasted winter squash. Cook for 2-3 minutes more, until squash is warm.
  • Crack eggs directly into the skillet, and stir them amongst the vegetables, making a scramble.
  • When eggs are almost cooked through, add spinach and quinoa and heat through entirely.
  • Pour it all into a bowl to serve, and add more dressing to taste.
 
Cumin-Lime Dressing, adapted from Laura 
1 small jalapeño, seeded
1 clove of garlic, peeled
2 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
juice of 2 limes + a little bit of zest
1 tsp. honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt + pepper
  • To make the dressing, puree all the ingredients together in a food processor or blender, and salt and pepper to taste.