When I was too small to remember it happening, a Chinese American family moved in across the street from our tract home in Sacramento, California. Apparently, at the time, they were the only non-white people on the relatively new block. One set of their white next door neighbors were not very happy about this, and went so far as to walk the neighborhood asking neighbors to sign a petition demanding they move. The thing I love most about being told this story later on was the part about how my parents handled it. Not only did they refuse to sign it, but they immediately went over to meet them and extend their friendship.

By the time I was old enough to hear that story, our families had already shared years of kids playing together, Moms having coffee in the kitchen and Dads visiting on the curb during a break in yard work. My younger sister and their two youngest kids pried open their bedroom screens for early morning visits and cut their hair together while hiding in my parents master bedroom shower stall. Once they ate half a bottle of aspirin and Velma, their mother, and Jeanne, my  mother, fed them ipecac by the spoonful until they puked it up. Both Moms referred to “putting their faces on” before driving us to school and they cried together at my Mom’s kitchen booth the first time Kathy and I went off to Girl Scout Camp together.

Both our households were “second generation” ones–meaning our grandparents had come from what used to be called “the old country.” It made sense to me that Kathy’s grandmother spoke Chinese when she called on the phone, since my own Canadian French Grandmother resorted to French when she didn’t want us kids to know what she was saying. My Dad was fluent in Italian, which was spoken at home when he was growing up. He didn’t really learn Englsih until he went to kindergarten back in Utica, New York.

These old country connections made for a very interesting mix of traditional food with standard American fare. We all learned things from one another. As a good friend to their oldest daughter, I was often invited for dinner. I would watch with fascination as Kathy meticulously washed rice for dinner after school.  We’d have Chinese food with chopsticks, along with big plastic tumblers of good old American milk we had to finish before leaving the table. At my house, if we wanted, we could have the tiniest bit of wine in our lemonade with dinner.I tried candied ginger for the first time at their house. And sour plums. And kumquats. At our house it was pomegranates and figs.

The adults would share things too. Italian cookies and lasagna or braggiole made their way across the street. And Velma brought her traditional congee, which she called something that was pronounced somewhere between “yoke” and “joke” for my father when he was recovering from the flu. The story that everyone laughed about as much as they later laughed about the mix of shorn  blond and black hair in the shower stall went something like this. My Dad was famous for putting parmesan or romano cheese on everything he ate. To him, it made everything taste better. Presented with this authentic Chinese specialty, which he smelled and said looked great, he promptly sprinkled it with parmesan even before tasting it, amidst  loud exclamatory protest from me and my Mom, and then pronounced it delicious. He never lived it down.

I hadn’t thought about this funny and wonderful mixture of food traditions for decades. But when  I learned about this Burmese style tofu on McDougall Friends and experimented with these recipes, it all came flooding back.  Turns out there are lots of recipes and even two non-soy foods you can make Burmese style tofu from: chickpea flour or yellow lentils. It’s not quite like Chinese or Japanese soy tofu, and not quite like polenta. But it’s kind of like both. Asian and Italian. Which made me think of my childhood, and then Marco Polo, and how the legend goes he brought noodles back to Italy from China. And how carrying our traditional food across the street to one another while I was growing up is just part of a long chain of creative food fusion I am still having fun with.

The least time consuming way to make Burmese style tofu is with chickpea flour. There are lots of recipes out there. Most of them make way more than I would want or need, and some of them seemed rather fussy. But this one from Delicious Everyday  has the goldilocks charm of being “just right.” It makes a realtively small amount (which is more than enough for a few meals) and the directions are straightforward, uncomplicated and clear to follow. If you’d like to try your hand at it, be sure to go on over and follow the directions there. That’s what I do. The second way to make Burmese Style tofu, called Shan Tofu, takes a little bit longer because it’s made with yellow lentils that have to be soaked first, but it doesn’t require much extra attention. I read a recipe for how to make it here, on Wellbody Blog. Delicious Everyday’s recipe technique made so much sense to me, though, that I decided I would merge and tweak directions from the two sites to make my own version of yellow lentil tofu. I’ll share that with you here. This is a suitable version for those avoiding flour.

So what do you do with this stuff? A quick recipe search will reveal that it makes a great eggless salad. I am here to testify that is absolutely true. Either kind will work. The chickpea flour version is a little lighter. Here is a quick eggless salad I threw together with it. I didn’t have vegan mayo so I used homemade hummus and mustard and chopped radishes and green onions and parsley with spices like tumeric and my “As You Wish” spice blend and, of course, garlic.

chickpea tofu eggless salad

eggless salad made with chickpea tofu

Another thing you can do with Burmese style tofu is cut it into cubes and add it to stir fry like you would  soy tofu.  Here is a stir fry with black rice and broccoli I added some to, after tossing it in a mixture of lemon juice and a dab of chickpea miso (as shown in the photo at the top of this post).

Stir fry with Burmese Style Tofu made with Yellow Lentils, broccoli, black rice, green onion and a little cooked pumpkin

Stir fry with Burmese Style Tofu made with Yellow Lentils, broccoli, black rice, green onion and a little cooked pumpkin

The question remains whether this tofu can be marinated and baked in slabs like soy tofu? I’m not sure yet. I did try pan searing it in Anytime Sauce, but the sauce burned to the pan before I felt like the tofu was really browned. See bad photo below.

Pan Seared Burmese Style Chickpea Tofu

I’m wondering if I slathered it in Chipotle Barbecue Sauce  if I could broil it like one might broil polenta. There’s still lots of options to explore.

In the meantime, turns out it makes a great eggless scramble. I did nearly the same thing to the Yellow Lentil Tofu as I did with the Chickpea Tofu when I made eggless salad. The leftovers of that salad got added to the pan after the veggies were cooked. It was pretty darn good.  I used bits and pieces of veggies that needed to be used up, like part of a red pepper, part of a zucchini, and little broccoli and even some brown rice. Here’s a picture of my “scramble” before I dug into it.

Burmese Style Yellow Lentil Tofu and veggie scramble

Meals with this new-to-me kind of tofu are still a work of fusion-in-progress in my kitchen. If you decide to try this, let me know what you come up with in yours. Here’s to mix-and-matching traditions!

Maria (moonwatcher)






Easy Vegan Skillet Chili with red beans and butternut squash

The first Fall I was writing this blog I posted a short photo essay called The Reincarnation of My Jack-o-Lantern, in which I documented baking the pumpkin that had lit the way for wandering spirits (and trick or treaters) on my porch for Halloween night. Usually I love to bake pumpkins and squash and make yummy soups and desserts, and am willing go through the tortuous process of gutting them or cutting them up first if need be. Or if I don’t want to do all that, I’ll just stab the said squash or pumpkin with a sharp knife in several places and bake it whole.

Last week I got my first pumpkin in the CSA I’m sharing with friends. It’s small, squat, and covered with a textured stripes on top of deep orange. Pretty to look at and fun to touch. I keep thinking I’m going to bake it like I always do, but so far I just don’t feel like it. Plus, it got warm again in that Indian-Summer-on-the-Palouse way, so I have the excuse of not wanting to turn the oven on. I think the truth is that so far I’d rather look at it than eat it. The other night I realized what I really wanted to do was to draw it. As I began, I saw that is was  going to take on magical proportions and fill up the paper I was working on. Here’s what I came up with. I call it “A Great Pumpkin.”

"A Great Pumpkin" original chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

Every time I look at this fanciful drawing I smile. Or laugh.  And right after I finished it I said to the “real” pumpkin, “Now I can eat you.” But I still haven’t done that yet. It seems like too much work. So here’s an easy version of bean and pumpkin or squash chili that doesn’t require any peeling, gutting, seeding, chopping or even baking whole of a squash or pumpkin. The secret? Frozen butternut squash cubes. For when you’d rather draw your pumpkin than cut it up. Or for when there’s just not enough hours in the day.

A couple of years ago when I composed The Reincarnation of My Jack-o-Lantern I emphasized the lines of Nancy Willard’s wonderful poem “St. Pumpkin” that seem to be saying the pumpkin wants to live new lives. In my photo essay I showed it as jack-o-lantern, baked cubes, soup, and dessert (links to those recipes are in that earlier post if you’re feeling like checking them out). This year I’ll leave you with a few lines from the beginning of the same poem. They are the kind of words that make me want to draw, to make that little pumpkin last.

“Somebody’s in there.
Somebody’s sealed himself up
in this round room,
this hassock upholstered in rind,
this padded cell.
He believes if nothing unbinds him
he’ll live forever.”

Kind of neat in a getting-ready-for-Halloween sort of way that the type is both black and orange. Kind of neat that when I draw something it takes on a life of its own that seems eternal. At this time of the year when the veil between the worlds grows thin, I like to think about beautiful things lasting a long time and helping me to remember. Or loving connections that reach beyond the grave. And the lights we light inside pumpkins to honor those who have gone before. This tasty and easy dinner feeds my body while giving my spirit plenty of time to enjoy such seasonal musings.

Maria (moonwatcher)




Food Dehydrator Love, Part 3: Teff Carrot Cake Bars (Vegan and Gluten-Free)

September 29, 2014

  You know what they say about the third time being a charm? I think it’s true. And isn’t it usually the third wish in fairy tales that sets the story in dynamic motion? Often though, that magic is bestowed upon the heroine by the humblest looking creatures, ones we wouldn’t expect to hear talk, […]

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Notes at the End of Summer

September 22, 2014

Out west, September is often a warm (hot), dry and (sadly) smoky month. The dry heat torches forest and field fires. Air quality can suffer. But it is also a time of end of season magic. The days do get noticably shorter, especially here up north, but oh, the slant of the evening light turns […]

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Happy Tooth Visualization (and Piled High McDougall Style Hash Browns)

September 11, 2014

I interrupt my food dehydrator love fest to bring you a report from my dental odyssey. Instead of the gorey details or the latest scientific debate on what the best procedures are, I’d like to share something that came to me almost a month ago, as I was walking with Romeo and mulling over the […]

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Food Dehydrator Love, Part 2: Bacon Style Eggplant Chips

September 4, 2014

I’ve always been somewhat taken with the general project of vegan transformations of standard American favorites. It’s just plain fun to make chips out of kale, mayonnaise out of tofu, or, if you’re ingenious like Susan is, chocolate cake with beets.  I rarely want to actually make these things (too lazy), but I love seeing […]

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Food Dehydrator Love, Part 1: Slow Miracle Raw Low Fat Zucchini Bread Bars

August 27, 2014

One summer many years ago on Asbury Street when Mike was a teenager, I opened my front door to a couple of college students who introduced themselves as my neighbors from across the street. Two English majors: Peter and his girlfriend Jennifer. In fact they and their roommates were the first to call the yellow […]

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Happiness Challenge

August 22, 2014

I had a very difficult week. At a visit to the dentist I thought was a conscientious inquiry about a sensitive tooth, I discovered I need much more extensive work than I would ever have dreamed. I won’t be discussing the gory details here or in the comments, but suffice it to say that I’ve […]

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Instant Vegan Carob Banana Ginger Dipping Sauce (or Pudding)

August 18, 2014

I’ve never had any hesitation that moving to the little house on Van Buren Street was anything but the absolutely right thing for me to do. I just knew it from the very beginning. But if you’d asked me why I’d have a hard time telling you. I could have said “time for a change.” […]

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White Bean and Basil Spread (and The Return of the Sandwich!)

August 13, 2014

Feeling at home on the electric range was just the beginning of what seems likely to become a chain of surprises revealing themselves in my new home. This latest story of surprise and enlightenment has roots that go all the way back to when I was first diagnosed with MS in 1996. One of the […]

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