Vegan “Crab Cakes”

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This is my only photo of last night’s dinner–vegan “Old Bay Crab Cakes”.  While I forgot to take pictures along the way, I learned about some new ingredients that I thought were worth talking about.  This recipe is another from my “The Conscious Cook” book, but it is also online here.  As you can probably figure out, this recipe uses a mix of seasonings including the Old Bay seasoning in the title to flavor tofu-based cakes that conjure/mimic/taste like? the real thing.

For this dish I had to do some exploring at Whole Foods.  Along with picking up a tin of the Old Bay seasoning I needed to find Nori (seaweed) sheets and nutritional yeast flakes.  If you’re a sushi eater or maker you know about the seaweed.  It comes in a pack like this:

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The recipe calls for toasting it lightly (holding it with tongs) over a gas flame.  It turns from black to green almost instantly and gives off an ocean “fishy” smell.  After it’s toasted you break it up and pulverize it into a powder in a spice grinder. Basically, it’s about creating this “essence of fish” spice.  Pretty clever if you ask me. The yeast flakes are sold in bulk and look like this:

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This is a fascinating and very important ingredient in vegan cooking, both nutritionally (lots of  B-12) and as a binder type thing.  I’ve just begun exploring its many uses.  It is not “live” like the yeast you use to make bread but it smells very aromatically/pungently? yeasty.  I have a very good sense of smell and I could smell that yeasty odor in my car with the yeast bagged and tied and in the trunk area.  In this dish I think it was acting like a binder.

I made these cakes by sautéing some diced carrots, onions and garlic and processing it together with tofu, yeast, cornstarch and lots of spices.  The only change I made to the recipe was to cut the added salt by half since the Old Bay has plenty of salt. After refrigerating the mixture we (David was home by now) formed them into patties, coated them with soy milk and rolled them in a panko/Old Bay blend.  Technically these are supposed to be sautéed rather than fried, but we got a little over-zealous with the oil.  Not the worst thing actually.  We ended up serving them with a wasabi mayo (not vegan) that we happened to have in the fridge and the combination was quite good.  The texture was a little softer in the center than I’d like but I think a little less processing would address that nicely.

Here’s a look at the center of a cake the next day (slated for my lunch):

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These are really yummy, and I am totally amused and, frankly, astonished at how much they remind me of crab cakes.  I had no idea something like this was possible.  Live and learn and learn and learn!

 

 

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Done!!!

This past Friday morning I was composing a blog post (not this one) as David and I were sitting at the Tucson airport waiting to board a Southwest flight to Chicago.  This would be the time for a very appropriate collective groan.  We planned this trip to see Anne a long time ago and we had goodies for her in our carry-on bag.  I was writing about those goodies and planning on posting after the trip.

Well, as most everyone knows by now, there was a fire at the air traffic facility in Chicago and nothing was going in or out.  Such a bummer. Anne and I cried our tears, and we promised to reschedule as soon as possible.  After some typically infuriating time with American Airlines and some less infuriating time with Southwest we replanned the trip for the end of October.

So David and I found ourselves with an unexpectedly free weekend at home, and aside from restocking our refrigerator we got busy with our respective hobbies.  And that’s when I finished this:

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Woohoo!!!!  This was a labor of love if there ever was one.  Endless and tedious but in the end oh so worth it.  This shawl was made from Quince and Company linen yarn that after blocking is soft and beautiful.  Here’s a better look:

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I was afraid that after I blocked it and opened up all the lace (the fun part really) my mistakes would be glaringly obvious.  Not so! I’m sure there are mistakes but they’re certainly not obvious. I guess all that ripping and redoing paid off.  Here’s what this gorgeous pattern looks like up close:

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If you can spot mistakes, shhh, don’t tell me.

I have to admit, that while I chose this gray/blue color because it’s fairly neutral it is a little blah.  Oh well.  I also really have no idea how to wear this.  I’ve never owned a “shawl” or should I call it a “wrap”?  Some folks can jauntily arrange wraps or shawls or whatever over their shoulders but for me I think it will take some practice.  For my first attempt I went for the ancestral (i.e. “shtetl”) vibe:

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I’m not gonna lie, there’s something about this I like.  I certainly wouldn’t have to worry about how my hair looks!  Ok, never mind.  How about this:

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Definitely a work in progress.

So in the end, the change of plans this weekend provided me with a good opportunity to practice acceptance and not cause unnecessary suffering for myself.  It was so disappointing to not be able to see Anne as planned and the whole airport thing is frustrating and maddening, but all of it was completely out of my control.  In the past I would probably have obsessed about it all weekend but not acknowledged my sadness and anger.  This time I did the opposite.  I let myself feel the full impact of my disappointment and frustration and then I got on with it and enjoyed the weekend.

Good for me.

 

 

 

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Or more accurately, ten rows forward and five rows back.

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This shawl, my latest knitting project, has been sent by the universe to teach me something.  I’m sure that’s what’s going on here.

The short version (of the long/endless shawl project) is that I keep making the same mistakes over and over.  And while I can fix many mistakes now, the one I keep making can’t be fixed (by someone at my skill level anyway).  And this time I can’t “live with it” either because the result will be a wholly unraveled shawl.  I’ll spare you the details about the exact sort of knitting trouble I’m getting into but suffice it to say that I don’t usually notice the problem until I am rows and rows along, which means I have to painstakingly backtrack stitch by stitch, row by row.  There are about 400 stitches in each row.  On Sunday, I spent the entire afternoon watching football and knitting backwards.  Yikes.

Today I finally got back in “drive”;  I was literally down to the last three rows (I’ve been to this point before by the way) when I spotted another mistake about four rows back.  So really, at this point it is time to contemplate those bigger universal lessons.  I think I’m struggling with the same situation over and over because I have yet to master the following : Patience, process rather than results, patience, acceptance of things we can not change, patience, kindness to self, patience, gratitude for do-overs, patience, using lifelines (knitting term), patience.  Oh, and did I mention patience?

In meditation I’m learning that I can hang in and be with some pretty annoying thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.  They won’t kill me.  They will pass.  And in my day-to-day life I’m always trying to remember that, especially when things aren’t going my way.  This Sisyphean knitting project will end.  I will be the proud owner of a beautiful shawl that (hopefully) will not unravel at an inopportune time.  I’m just not going to finish it today as I had hoped and planned.  And that is not a catastrophe.

Oh and there’s one more lesson:

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I am allowed to step away from that which is making me unhappy and find something else that will make me happier-baking this cake, for instance.  If you want to bake it, I promise it will make you happier too.  The recipe is here.

 

 

A New Garden and an Unexpected Guest

It has been a very strange week or two weather-wise.  The constant threat of rain from hurricanes stalled our water pipe project.  After everything was trenched and the pipe laid, the asphalt company (apparently there is only one in Tucson) refused to make asphalt because of the threat of rain.  The hurricane ended up being much ado about nothing, but yesterday, in stunning end-of-season monsoon fashion we got an inch of rain in about twenty minutes.  The unasphalted trenches siphoned all the water from our cul-de-sac onto our property–there was a little lake in front and a river in the back.  It took some time, but the water all eventually got redirected (David did some retrenching) and absorbed.

Unfortunately, we picked yesterday morning (before any sign of rain) to plant our new garden.  We waited weeks for just the right time (i.e. not too hot), and here’s how it looked with our plants happily situated in the space:

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We decided to give ourselves a break and buy the plants this time, but I still started a bunch of seeds in the greenhouse.  They’re coming along nicely but aren’t ready for prime time yet:

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In the garden we planted lots of leafy greens, some peppers, eggplant, cauliflower and herbs.

This morning, after the deluge, we reraked around the plants;  they looked a little shell-shocked but after a day of sun and some gentler watering they are perking up.  They must have heard about the BIG CARDINALS WIN against the San Francisco Forty-Niners today!!  (Just had to work that into the post).  So it’s exciting to have all these veggies planted and we’re optimistic that they will do well here.

Now, for our unexpected guest.  As I’ve mentioned before, the torrential rains bring out all sort of critters, but nothing could have prepared me for this guy, who was not out of, but in our house!!!

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That’s a desert tortoise that walked himself into a corner of our entryway and didn’t know how to put himself in reverse.  He must have gotten in yesterday when I had the front door open when I was checking out the monsoon damage.  I was sitting in the kitchen, knitting away, when I heard a groaning sort of sound.  I couldn’t imagine what made the sound.  So I followed the noise and … YIKES!!  I handled it the way any level-headed person would–I hightailed it out of the house to find David .  He dutifully dropped what he was doing to begin operation “get the turtle out of the house”.  It was actually a pretty simple “operation”.

Step one:

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Step two:

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Both the tortoise and I were much happier when he went on his way.

In general, I’m very grateful for all the rain that comes our way.  It’s great for the environment and makes everything beautiful and green.  Plus there’s always the promise of wildflowers.  But right now I’m very ready for the months and months of cloudless Arizona skies that are on their way.

 

Vogue 1247

Sounds impressive, right?  I think the word “Vogue” anything conjures something fashionable and current.  Since I started making my own clothes and using all kinds of patterns,  Vogue Patterns has become synonymous with “pretty nice design” and “unnecessarily convoluted directions”.  Sheesh.  Luckily all turned out well in the end with Vogue 1247.  Here’s the pattern (which they tell you is “cutting edge” in case you aren’t sure):

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I made the skirt, which is oh-so mini in this photo.  I probably wouldn’t have considered this pattern except that it is universally loved by so many pattern reviewers on patternreview.com, my go-to site for the inside scoop on patterns.  The tips received there are invaluable and help save time and money.  On this one,  most people  added lots of length to make it wearable.  I did the same, and here’s my version:

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I really like it!  The fabric I chose is a stretch denim from Joann’s.  I wanted something with some darker colors that could also transition into fall in Arizona (warm, not hot).  I can imagine wearing this with a denim jacket and tank or three-quarter sleeve tee.  Here’s a close-up of the fabric:DSCN1791

This is the back of the skirt which has an invisible zipper.  I finally bought an invisible zipper foot and used it for the first time on this skirt.  Technically you shouldn’t see the zipper at all when it’s done exactly right but this wasn’t bad for the first time.

As I mentioned, the Vogue directions are notoriously convoluted and often inaccurate.  I’m glad that I have enough experience at this point to do my own thing at times.  This pattern calls for using bias binding to enclose inner seams.  I went along with that here:

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and here:

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I guess some people find this to be an appealing design element (on the inside??) but I kind of thought it was a waste of time.  I finished the rest of the seams with my serger.

I do really like the design of the low pockets in the front of this skirt:

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It’s a little like a tool belt for the gals.  NOT.  Now that I think about it though, it’s not a bad place for my i-phone.

Well that’s all she wrote for Vogue 1247.  I’m off to add my two cents on Pattern Review…

Hooray For Black Bean Burgers!

I know that with my daily “what we had for dinner” blogging I am coming perilously close to the social media craziness that I have managed to avoid for many years.  But I am giving myself a pass because I truly believe I am doing a public service by sharing these recipes.  This was my second attempt to make a flavorful and texturally delicious black bean burger (the first, which I also blogged about, was a fail).  This recipe, found here  (a gorgeous blog by the way) combines black beans with red quinoa and the burgers are baked, not fried or sautéed.

I followed the recipe pretty much as written except I used a real egg instead of a substitute and I left out the grated beet which was only for color.  This recipe is good for only two people and a little short on leftovers.  Next time I will double it.  Here’s how the dish turned out on my plate…

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and on David’s:

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The burgers were firm throughout and had a bit of a “crust” from the brush of olive oil before baking.  The flavors from shallots, garlic, cumin and coriander were terrific.  We ate these with Chipotle Mayonnaise.  Ooh, so delicious. The recipe uses a jarred version but I chose to make my own from a Bobby Flay recipe.  It’s got great kick and adds a lot to the dish.  The recipe for the mayo is here.   As an aside, since we’ve gone veggie, our food processor is getting a workout and we haven’t turned on the grill once.  Different tools for different cuisine…

So I will sign off with my usual recommendation to give this recipe a try.  I’m planning to spend the rest of the evening doing something other than blog about our dinner.

 

Everyday Quiche

So let’s be honest.  Not every dinner can be a stunning masterpiece of slow-cooked flavors that takes a few hours to prepare.  Except for one scrambled egg dinner and a visit to our favorite Indian restaurant we’ve been cooking away preparing vegetarian dishes.  So what I was needing was the equivalent of the “roast chicken dinner”.  In other words, easy ingredients (most of which I have around), minimal prep and cook time, maximum flavor and guest-worthy in a pinch.

Enter today’s dinner- mushroom and cheese quiche  (rustic style):

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The “rustic style” refers to the rather messy-looking  homemade crust.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.

I’ve always enjoyed quiche, but haven’t made one in years (like 30).  I think the last one I made had Durkee onion rings, (you know, the ones from the can) as a major ingredient.  So I scoured the internet to find some basic recipes.  There was quite a bit of variation out there, from the type of pan you use (straight versus curved sides) to the proportion of eggs to milk and/or cream to different types of fillings.  My plan was to try to find a simple recipe that we could doctor up with any combination of vegetables and cheese.  I knew that I wanted to use up some mushrooms, onions, jalapeño and shredded cheddar and parmesan cheeses that weren’t going to last much longer in my refrigerator.  So I settled on this recipe.

But first, the crust.  I’ve made my own pie crusts so I didn’t have any trepidation about making this one from scratch, especially because I decided to make the dough entirely in the food processor.  I had been slaving away using a pastry cutter which is slow and tiring, mostly because you need to use very cold butter to make a flaky crust.  But I had permission from The New York Times to use a processor.  The recipe is here.  Making the dough literally took 5 minutes, plus some refrigerator time and then the rolling out.  My crimping skills are still non-existent but this crust isn’t just an enhancement, it’s a must for truly delectable flavor.

The rest of the prep is so simple, and the only important tip is to remove as much moisture from the vegetables as possible so as not to have too much liquid in the dish.  For me that just meant sautéing the onions, jalapeño and mushrooms in olive oil until the mushrooms gave up all their liquid:

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I spread these on the bottom of my pre-baked (8 minutes) crust.  Then I added the eggs, milk, cheeses, salt and pepper which had been whisked together.  I sprinkled some shredded parmesan on the top and exactly 45 minutes later it was done.  Served with a green salad it was a great meal:

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Give this one a try for dinner or for brunch; I really think you’ll like it.  It’s veggie, it’s healthy (sort of), it’s easy and you don’t need to clean your oven after it’s done 🙂

Creole Feast Vegan Style

The choice to be vegan rather than vegetarian is one that significantly impacts lifestyle, which is why David and I are testing the waters of vegetarianism rather than veganism.  At this stage it’s hard to imagine a diet without eggs, butter or cheese, or a social life that doesn’t include different types of restaurants.  That being said, we know that commercial farms that produce dairy and eggs are no better at treating animals humanely than other kinds of commercial farms.  Plus the waste from these animals is having an equally negative environmental impact.  So we find ourselves in a bit of a quandary.

At this point, we’ve decided to do two things.  The first is to find local sources of eggs and cheese where humane treatment of animals is (hopefully) not as much of an issue.  Well today we hit the Rillito Park Farmer’s Market here in town and were successful on both fronts.  We came home with blocks of raw cheese from a family farm in California and a dozen eggs from a local farmer (“nest-laid eggs”!).  It was quite an experience with lots of impulse buys from amazing dates and heirloom tomatoes to a loaf of gluten-free bread (grilled cheese!) and a fermented iced tea called “Kombucha”.  It was also fun to be around so many like-minded people.

The second thing we decided to do is try out some vegan recipes each week.  As I’ve said before, if you can cook well, you can eat well, and I believe this is true with any dietary approach.  Enter this:

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This book has been on my shelf for three years.  I didn’t buy it.  It came along with a set of pots and pans that we bought, and while I initially gave it a cursory look I wasn’t ready to engage with the vegan message or recipes.  I am now. It is a compilation of gorgeous recipes provided by several accomplished vegan chefs.  In addition, there are lengthy discussions about alternative ingredients with recommended products and brands. If you are vegan or thinking of going that route this would be a great resource.

For last night’s dinner we chose to make the Creole Tempeh over brown rice, which is loaded with New Orleans-inspired cajun spices.  A vegan étouffée.  Well, this exceeded ALL expectations.  Here’s a look at the finished dish (without the garnish of sliced scallions and chopped parsley which I forgot to add):

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This was my first experience with tempeh, a fermented soy-based protein.  I forgot to take a picture of the raw tempeh, but it comes in a hardish white log where you can see the pressed soybeans.  The first step to this recipe is to braise the sliced tempeh in liquid- water, cajun spices, fresh ginger, garlic and soy sauce- for 45 minutes.  This is an important step because it both changes the texture of the tempeh and infuses it with lots of flavor:

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After this step you reserve the cooking liquid, dredge the tempeh in flour and more cajun spices and sauté it up.  It browns beautifully and looks like this:

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We tasted it at this point and it really has a “meaty” texture and great flavor with all the spices.  This could go well on a sandwich.

Next we sautéed a bunch of mixed vegetables in the same pan:

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We added back the braising liquid, the tempeh, some bay leaves, red wine and more dry spices:

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This simmered for thirty minutes filling the house with an incredible aroma.  It cooked down and thickened quite a bit.  Over brown rice it was absolutely divine.  We’re still talking about how delicious it was.  Jeff was here for dinner, so there are no leftovers!

This dish and our trip to the farmers’ market were both very encouraging.  Finding a way to eat well while being true to our beliefs about the environment and the humane treatment of animals is what this is all about.  It feels good.

The Zero-Sum Game and a Water Line

Today I’m going to indulge in some blogo-therapy.  I hope that my readers will bear with me and I’ll do my best to provide some food for thought along the way.

Let me begin by saying that I was a horrible economics student.  Dry dry stuff, graphs, yuck.  I don’t remember much beyond “supply and demand” basics but I do remember finding the idea of the zero-sum game pretty interesting, probably because it was something I kind of understood.  If you’re not familiar with the idea, it’s basically about dividing up finite resources among participants such that if someone gets “more” someone else necessarily gets “less”.  Winners and losers.

A simple and concrete example of this that we probably all know about is the “family hold back” idea around a dinner table.  David and I run into this one sometimes when Jeff decides to join us for dinner last minute.  We might have two potatoes baking–Jeff gets one and we share the other.  This is actually a win-win because who needs the carbs, but you get the idea.  If someone takes “more” another person has to get “less”.  Examples of this abound in our everyday lives, particularly around things like money and time, since most of us see those things as finite resources.

But a zero-sum mentality around non-finite resources is also very very common.  There are so many times when interpersonal problems and issues are framed as win/lose when other possibilities abound.  And that leads me to our current unplanned construction project:

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We are relocating our main water line from its current location due south of our house to this location in the front of our house:

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You can see where they are coming today to cut across our cul-de-sac to where a new meter will be.   So disruptive and unnecessary.  Here’s what happened…

We learned that there was an issue with the current location of our water meter when a soon-to-be neighbor (call her “L”) knocked on our door explaining that she was building a house on the land to the south of our home and she was concerned that our “temporary” water line might be running across the lot.  Valid concern.  As she frantically swung her papers around, we learned that in 1993 there was an agreement made with the current owner that within a year the temporary meter would be relocated.  Well it never happened and now she, and we, had a problem.

In the spirit of win/win and cooperation we got busy trying to figure out where the lines actually went, because of course she gets to build her house.  We found out by toning the pipes that our water line ran along the edge of her property and actually shared a trench with another neighbor’s water line.  Years before L had given an easement to our neighbor for these lines.  Naturally, we assumed that we could work out a similar arrangement with her since she couldn’t build on that area anyway.  Let me mention that while nobody likes easements it’s hard to find a property up where we live that doesn’t have some.  Our neighbors all have easements from us to use the cul-de-sac for example.  It’s just  something you live with up here.

We shared all this information with L assuming she would not be interested in forcing this disruptive and costly work.  We were willing to assume any and all responsibility for the line that had been attached to our property for twenty years and provide her with any legal protections.  But L is operating from a psychological scarcity place and she was all about free-floating fear.  Enter the zero-sum game.  It became clear to us (when she showed up at our house with the builder) that she didn’t want to find a win-win solution.  She wanted to win.  I could see the crazed child in her grabbing what was hers unwilling to consider the needs of others or see a bigger picture (like decent neighbor relations).   Somehow, she perceived that we were taking something from her and she couldn’t tolerate it.  And that more than anything led us to the decision to detach from her and make plans to relocate the line.

As an aside, we might have been able to fight this in court given the cost to us, but we decided a long time ago not to engage with crazy if we can help it, and this had crazy written all over it.  No regrets about our decision.

I think it’s always valuable to consider our own zero-sum tendencies.  Do we engage with the world from a place of fear and scarcity or abundance?  Is there enough love to go around?  Can we all be successful?  Can we afford to be generous or must we protect our piece of the pie?

Thanks for hanging in with me.  It’s been a helpful “session”.

 

 

Back to Earth-Frittata Fail

Well, wasn’t I just all full of myself after my last two sublimely delicious vegetarian dinners!   With the aroma of a Middle Eastern snack shack still lingering in the house I made plans for tonight’s dinner entree–a healthy and hearty frittata.  Now the house smells a bit like burnt egg.  Yup.  Not good.

I’ve only made one other frittata in my life, a Barefoot Contessa roasted vegetable one that overwhelmed my taste buds with the intense flavor of the roasted veggies.  So this time around I chose a recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  Hers was pretty basic, with potatoes, broccolini (we used kale), mushrooms, onions, and parmesan cheese inside and melted on top.  The up front prep was pretty easy.  First simmer the potatoes in vegetable broth until tender:

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I got into trouble pretty soon after I took this photo.  The potatoes were taking their time softening up, so I covered the pan, stepped away and realized they were sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan.  After some scraping around, I added some olive oil and the rest of the veggies:

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Once these cooked down a bit, I added the egg and parmesan mixture:

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At this point the recipe says to lower the heat, cover the dish and let it set up.  As a note, this recipe cooks the frittata almost entirely on the stove rather than in the oven.  Once it’s almost set you sprinkle it with more parmesan cheese and put it under the broiler to brown up and finish setting.  Well, even with the heat down low we started smelling the bottom burning before the top was set.  So I paced around still waiting for it to set up because the thought of undercooked eggs…well I just can’t do it.  Finally we got it under the broiler and it was done:

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The brown on top is the melted parmesan-that part wasn’t burnt. I have to say it looked great and very much like the one from Smitten Kitchen.  Here’s a close-up of a slice:

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I’ll spare you a photo of the burnt underside (Ok, I  didn’t actually run for the camera at that point).

We ate this with less than our normal enthusiasm and murmured comments to each other about the ways to make it better, other than not burning it, of course.  I concluded my comments with a declaration that “I don’t think I like eggs for dinner”.  David didn’t look too excited about working his way through these leftovers, and that’s the true test of a recipe in our house.  If David, who is endlessly inventive with leftovers can’t conjure up a way to make a dish work the next day, out it goes.  Bye bye frittata.

Obviously my frittata technique failed me here.  And as I left the dinner table feeling unsatisfied and headed over to the still unfinished Linzer Torte for some sweet relief (eating just a few feelings),  I reminded myself that this was just a lousy meal, nothing more, nothing less.  It can be very hard for me to keep these kinds of experiences in perspective, and I still struggle to not get too attached to outcomes.  Since that’s the case, I suppose the universe will send more of these experiences my way until I figure it out,  if not in the kitchen, then in the sewing room or in the garden or wherever.  Well,  bring it on…