Monday, October 14, 2019

Chinese Takeout at Home, a Rainbow Birthday Cake and Duncan's Recovery

It has been a busy and rather stressful month over here. Some of it was routine (V traveling for work), some was fun (a birthday) and a bunch of it was awful (doggy surgery), and all of it meant that our meals were basic and simple affairs.

On the weather front, northeast Georgia has been mind-boggling. The autumnal equinox came and went on September 23 while we sizzled on and on in the 90s. Records were set. Come October 4, the high was 98F, enough to make you faint right there on the curb. The next day and ever since, the temperatures have dropped like a stone and are now considerably cooler. In the kitchen, it has meant a transition from salads and sandwiches to soups and casseroles.

I checked out the Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook by Nisha Vora from the library and found a half dozen recipes to try. I ended up trying just one and it was a hit- the Chinese take-out style tofu and broccoli. The complete recipe is in the link, but here's what I did, in short. I changed up the sauce and marinade ingredients.

1. Cut extra firm tofu into bite sized cubes and marinate it (in a bowl, no plastic bag required) in olive oil, nutritional yeast, soy sauce, ginger garlic, a touch of maple syrup.
2. Saute the marinated tofu in the IP.
3. Add a sauce made with the same ingredients as the marinade, plus some rice vinegar and toasted sesame oil. Cook under high pressure for 3 minutes. Quick release.
4. Open the IP and stir in broccoli florets. Cook under low pressure for 1 minute. Quick release.
5. Stir in a cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce.

I served the broccoli tofu with a bit of steamed rice and a generous dose of spicy chili crisp sauce. This dish was perfect- tender broccoli and a glossy sauce- and will be going into our regular dinner rotation.

If broccoli and tofu is my favorite Chinese takeout entree, then eggplant in garlic sauce comes in a very close second.

I tried this too, in the instant pot, and it was fantastic. Saute batons of Japanese eggplant, then add a sauce (soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and so on), pressure cook for 3 minutes, then add a cornstarch slurry to make a glossy sauce. I served it with some steamed Jasmine rice and roasted green beans and tofu (the latter two made simultaneously on a sheet pan).


* * * 
Our daughter turned eight in September. What a milestone 8 is, the start of middle childhood, the last four years or so before puberty hits and life is never the same for child or parents. To celebrate, I organized an ice cream social and invited 8 of her little gal pals for an afternoon party. We made a brownie cake using my long-time favorite brownie recipe- Alice Medrich's best cocoa brownies- baking it in a round tin instead of a square brownie tin.

I made a quick from-scratch chocolate sauce using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen and put it into a squeeze bottle. The birthday girl decorated the brownie cake herself, making a simple rainbow design with colorful M&Ms and mini marshmallows for clouds. She used dots of chocolate sauce to hold the decorations in place.

I set out an ice cream sundae bar-
Bowls and cones, chocolate wafer sticks
Brownies (cake shown above)
Three flavors of ice cream (not shown, set out at the last minute)- vanilla, chocolate, strawberry
Fruit- strawberries, mandarin oranges, pineapple bits
Peanuts
Sprinkles- we had 4 types
Candy- M&Ms and gummy bears
Chocolate sauce

The kids had a grand time assembling their own concoctions and the party set up could not have been easier. Ice cream socials are truly an easy and crowd-pleasing way to throw a low-key party.

* * * 
Our dogly lad Duncan has arguably had the worst month of his life. It started with a limp a few weeks ago. A trip to the vet led to some anti-inflammatory medication and some rest. There was no improvement- in fact the limp got worse- and the vet suspected that his knee ligament had ruptured, a common problem in both humans and dogs. There was a consultation with the vet surgeon; she confirmed the issue with the knee joint and recommended a surgery called the TTA procedure. 

I was in turmoil for a few days wondering if I should be putting my dog through this major surgery and also knowing that we had little choice; if we failed to fix the knee, his other leg would be overused and likely develop the same problem and he would have two failed back legs. No bueno. We liked and trusted the surgeon and decided to go ahead with the surgery last week. 

Duncan spent one night in the hospital and came home on Wednesday after an uneventful operation. The poor boy is confined to a single room for 3 months (with potty breaks 3-4 times a day of course); his recovery of normal leg function requires him to rest the joint as much as possible to allow the bone to grow and heal. For two weeks until the incision heals he has to wear the infamous cone of shame- Elizabethan collar- to keep him from licking and infecting his stitches. He's on a regimen of pills and it is a production to make him take the darn pills twice a day. Some of the pills are doggy opioids and thank goodness for those because he's napping a lot and not in pain. 

So that's the sad story of our sweet boy Dunkie. He can no longer run free, go to the dog park and on long walks, all of the things that made him so happy. But hopefully three months will pass by quickly and the story will have a happy ending when he gets to do all those things again. Please send him some love and good wishes! 


Tell me what you're cooking and eating this October! 

21 comments:

  1. Oh look at that face..lots of hugs and wishes for Duncan. hope he gets better soon! My daughter turns 4 this month so am looking forward to throw a nice little party for her and her/our friends. she will also start school immediately after so am fussing over what to pack for her lunch/snacks every day. i dont want to send her sandwich of bread and cheese everyday like typical Dutch kids. hopefully i get a hang of making kid friendly lunch which are quick and easy to make before 7 am every day :-)

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    1. And belated happy birthday to Lila!! idea of ice-cream sundae sounds lovely!!

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    2. Kejal- Thanks for the birthday wishes and the wishes for Duncan! I hope you have lots of fun planning a party for your little girl. Both my kids eat lunch at their respective schools so lunch packing is not something I do regularly. During summer camps when my daughter does take a lunch box, it is usually something simple and predictable, like a cheese and tomato sandwich with carrot sticks and fruit. Good luck for the start of school!

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  2. lots of good wishes to Duncan! Hope he can do the things he likes soon!
    Sept/Oct has been full of simple meals at home. Extra busy schedules for me at hubby and my 6 year old already acting as a teenager (!!) we are too tired to go out to eat on weekends and we just spend time chilling at home and getting some family time!

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    1. Neha- Duncan says thank you :) Yes, the teenage drama does seem to start early!

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  3. my best wishes to Duncan, do do get well soon sweetheart. I feel so sad seeing him lying down looking so sleepy. Sending lots of prayers and kisses and hugs to him from bay area. If he's having trouble eating do try plain rice with some chicken broth all mushed up. That is what worked on both our dogs when they were hospitalized and then back home recuperating. A very good broth is available at costco 2 bottles in a pack made of chicken bones which I like because it has the cartilage which helps heal bones, joints and replenishes strength lost.

    lots of love again Duncan.

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    1. Thank you Vedant. Indeed it was hard to see him looking pitiful, but he is such a strong and stoic dog. So far he is eating his normal food well but I will keep your tips in mind!!

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  4. Poor dunkie ! Hope he recovers soon...

    Just started teaching music to some 7-8 year old girls in my neighborhood and am discovering how cute and delightful they are haha. And while my nephews of that age are equal parts adorable and exhausting these girls are no less in that department. Full of rambunctious energy which is actually fun to see ! Much to their mom's consternation who were secretly hoping I'd be a stern teacher lol I let them just be themselves and meet them halfway as it were. It's been a riot so far.

    Lila's ice cream social seems so much fun. I'll likely copy your idea one of these days

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    1. Janani- Thanks!! You must be the most awesome music teacher ever. I agree with you that this is a really delightful age and yes, my girl and her friends are the same way, full of energy and non-stop chatter; certainly not the quiet mouse I was as a kid. Lila also enjoys it best when her teachers are loving and friendly, while still setting high expectations. When kids get attached to their teachers, they want to please them and it brings out the best in them. Sternness and intimidation is counter-productive I feel.

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  5. Hi Nupur, a very happy birthday to Lila! She's a Libran, no wonder she's so artistic. Sanjay booked us for 3 days to a gorgeous place to celebrate my milestone birthday. And it is spring here so the weather and flowers all around are amazing. Your recipes always inspire me. Wishing doggie lad Duncan a speedy recovery. Look forward to your post where you have photos of him when he's 100%.

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    1. Shubha- Virgo, actually :D I hope you have the loveliest vacations, and congratulations on the big birthday! I too look forward to seeing Dunkie back on his feet and will definitely post updates.

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    2. Even better if Lila is Virgo!
      I have a Virgo and a Libra so take my word!!
      Thanks for your wishes, very special to me

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  6. What a cute cake and a sad wee puppy dog! Hope Duncan's leg improves. Sylvia would love an ice cream party but I am never so keen on it so probably wont happen! Not too much cooking lately - though need to think of something for cake stall on the weekend.

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    1. Thanks Johanna! You always throw the most awesome parties with themed food :) An ice cream party is a good one when one is short on time though.

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  7. Hi Nupur,
    Happy Birthday to Lila!
    We did an icecream social for my daughter's 8th birthday too :) I didn't decorate the brownie so cutely though! She's not a fan of cakes so we are always trying to come up with other ideas for parties.

    I'm definitely going to try the recipes you have shared in the post. Can you believe that I have gone twice to the Asian grocery store in my town (it's about 20 mins away) and the crispy chili sauce has been sold out? Hoping to try it soon!

    I am back scratching the itch I get about once a year to cook from the pantry and freezer, trying to finish up stuff. Whenever I do this, I realize how much stuff I actually have. It will likely take me the rest of the year to put a dent in it. So our meals have been random stuff. I have been baking a loaf of bread every week to use up the different bags of flour. Made loaf cakes, banana bread, blueberry cake etc. Have been using up the Indian dry goods, all the dals, besan, poha, sabudana...it's never ending but is making me get creative and out of my usual cooking.

    Duncan is such a gondas pilloo, that last picture is just heart melting. Hope he feels better soon and the 3 months fly.

    Wish you a less stressful rest of the year!

    -Anu

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  9. I hope Duncan gets better soon. Maybe you can try a comfortable ecollar. The plastic ones are really hard and uncomfortable, and poor guy has to wear it for 3 months. That will be so hard on him. I use one for my 110lb lab, called Comfy Cone, which is soft and still works well, bought it from amazon and there are many options. Check it out.

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    1. He doesn't have to wear the collar for 3 months, no! He wore it for 2 weeks and then the collar came off once the staples were removed. But I will keep this soft option in mind, thank you.

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  10. Belated birthday wishes to little Lila. Hope Duncan get rid of the collar soon. what a sad face!

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  11. Happy birthday to Lila! and good wishes to Duncan.
    There must be a secret PR agency dedicated to the Instant Pot! Resistance seems futile; I think I'm getting one this Thanksgiving.

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  12. Hello Nupur,
    Here's hoping Dunkie boy is better and soon will be up and about! Sending him lots and lots of love, hugs and bestest wishes.

    Lila's birthday party sure sounds like a lot of fun! I love the idea and might borrow it for my son's next birthday!

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