25 February 2010

No such...

We have been busy, dear readers, we have been like the proverbial bees, and we are tired. I have been writing strange things and reading new things, and I am ready for something just a bit more familiar. Over the last (almost) two (whoa!) years, this blog has become –for me, if not for Craig– a sort of home, a place to put my thoughts and to think and to know that you will read and think with me. So, though this blog often used to be on my to-do list, another box to tick, another chore at the end of the day... now, it is a gift. I finish all the chores I must get done, and then I settle in, with a cup of tea, on my metaphorical internet-based couch. Comfortable. Allow me to stretch out.

The Old City of Bangkok is filled with temples, called wats, royal ones, educational ones, ancient ones, quiet ones...derelict ones. We went first to Wat Phra, pronounced "Pra," connected to what used to be a royal residence, also known as the Grand Palace. But these days, it's only used to house visiting dignitaries, like Queen Elizabeth and her sort.

I borrowed a sarong from the ticket office and Craig had to borrow big poofy pants, because you must show your respect for the royal family's former residence by not showing too much ankle. We found the mix of Hinduism and Buddhism nearly overwhelming here, with Hindu deities painted in Chinese style, dragons next to skinny, ascetic Buddhas next to big fat happy Chinese Buddhas.

Craig especially appreciates Garuda, the chicken-man deity, and insisted on photographs.

Every structure in Wat Phra's complex is guarded by demons and gods of varying sizes, colours, ferocities.

Another part of the Wat Phra complex is the Royal Regalia and Coin Museum: a true blend of the banal and the fascinating. The Thais love their royal family, and they love their king. His dynasty is strong; Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that was never colonised, largely because the Thai kings were always Anglophiles and Europhiles who managed to befriend European royalty and manipulate neighbouring Southeast Asian countries. And even I'll admit: their king was pretty cool when he was young. He drove around in a mustard-yellow Rolls Royce; he's a fairly serious photographer, and he played jazz trumpet with the likes of a certain Dizzy Gillespie. Every business has to hang up a picture of the king somewhere in the establishment, but there's not just one official picture, so it doesn't get boring. The music venues tend to hang pictures of the king playing the trumpet, restaurants have pictures of him with his SLR. A lot of the pictures we saw were sort of ordinary home photos, a birthday cake in the foreground, the king hugging his mom. You can actually get a sense of the king as a person, not just an image. And the Thais love him.

But they are prone to some serious hero-worship. Royal Regalia included the royal picnic basket, the royal typewriter collection, the royal fly-whisk, and several royal spitoons. And there was more than one museum dedicated to this sort of cataloguing of the royal mundane possessions. It was reminiscent of America (look! George Washington's wooden teeth!) in its total devotion to political leaders. But after nearly two years of living in Australia, where political figures are always seen through shit-coloured glasses, it felt weird. Seriously, in the States, you can visit Jefferson's house, Washington's house, they're all museums of the country's heritage now. But in Australia, most of the museums are about convicts, women, ordinary people. Good luck finding a museum featuring Lachlan Macquarie's toothpick holder or Bligh's mustache wax box.

On the other hand, the Coin museum was awesome. Ancient money is so impractical! Baseball-sized spheres of metal with gashes in them, or cubes with sticks stuck into them. Ridiculous. There was also a collection of Thai money from the golden age of empire; at some point, Thailand was so flooded with money from foreign countries, the king decided to just collect the foreign coins and re-stamp the backs as Thai currency, rather than mint his own. So, all these coins have Victoria's face on the front and Thai writing on the back. Bad. Ass.

The Emerald Buddha also resides at Wat Phra, and it is a beautiful statue surrounded by enormous murals of Buddha's life. It's not emerald; it's really a jade Buddha. They call it the Emerald Buddha because the person who found it thought it was emerald. It has gold clothing which the king ceremoniously changes every season; a golden shawl for the dry season, a heavier golden shawl for the springtime, and a golden umbrella for the wet season.

Make no mistake: Wat Phra is not just a tourist trap. It's also a temple. People pray there. It's a holy site. But we kept seeing this strange thing: a lot of people were also texting or talking on their cell phones.

I'll be honest, I haven't been to a church in a long long time, but people surely don't text? Do they? Can you pick your nose in Jesus' house? It seemed a fraught combination, sacred and profane. And all of Bangkok was like this: a talisman on a shopping mall, a goddess sculpture in a backalley lit with neon. Spirit houses on a 7-11, underneath TV aerials, underneath knots and snarls of powerlines.

I started thinking maybe it's not such a dichotomy-- maybe the modern stuff, like cellphones, are part of the sacred stuff. Maybe it's all sacred...

The powerlines in Bangkok are clumped heavy on the poles, like a Rube Goldberg contraption.
"It's amazing there aren't blackouts every day, with all that power being stolen," Craig said.

Wat Phra also has a small-scale model of Angkor Wat, built when Thailand conquered Cambodia, a symbol of Thai domination. Craig calls it "Angkor Watito."

And maybe it was this sense of Thai national pride, or maybe it was all the royal crap (I do have a very American deep-seated mistrust of any royalty, and don't we all?), or maybe it was the expensive entry ticket, but in the end, I didn't really like Wat Phra very much. Not nearly as much as I liked Wat Pho, pronounced "Po," which houses an extremely large and serene reclining Buddha.

The roof needs fixing up; we donated a tile. I wanted to buy a tile to take home with me; tiles are my favourite souvenirs, but no luck. Tiles only for Buddha.

Wat Pho was much quieter, with fewer tourists and more monks, sleeping in hammocks. Definitely the better wat.

And there was only one more old wat on this side of the river, Wat Mahathat; monks are still trained here. The guide book said many of the speak English, and enjoy practicing by giving free tours. Far from friendly monks, Mahathat seemed full of stray dogs. No tourists. Mahathat felt empty, abandoned. We walked through the whole complex, looking for people, for something. A humid silence covered the place. "Good afternoon!" a young voice called out; I turned around to see an orange-robed boy leaning out of a window, smiling. "Good afternoon," we called back, and he ran away, to join a group of monks running toward... I don't know what.

I remembered too late that women aren't supposed to talk to monks. No wonder we weren't approached for English practice.
Outside Mahathat, we found an amulet market and bought a few for good luck, even though we couldn't really be sure what we were buying.

We tried to go to a few vegetarian restaurants recommended by the Lonely Planet, but were faced with the same problem that we face with vegetarian restaurants everywhere. They are so rarely good. They are so often completely terrible and smell like piss and make you wish you were just eating vegetarian dishes from an omnivore restaurant. It was not good, and we were hungry, and then I realised I'd lost my purse.

With my little camera in it.

With the amulets in it.

So much for good luck.

12 February 2010

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Happy Year of the Tiger, everyone! This Chinese zodiac symbol portends a year that will be unpredictable, rebellious, colorful, powerful, passionate, daring, impulsive, vigorous, stimulating, sincere, affectionate, humanitarian and generous. However, it can be cold, restless, reckless, impatient, quick-tempered, obstinate, ruthless, selfish, aggressive, unpredictable and moody. Hmm. That sounds more like a description of a person. If this year is 'obstinate,' 'restless' or 'daring', how would we know? Perhaps I need to do more than three minutes of lazy Wikipedia 'research' to get a sense of what to expect in Feb. 2010 - Feb. 2011.

Regardless, if you can, go get some handmade wheat noodles and ma-po tofu, think back on the things you have to appreciate from the Year of the Ox, and prepare yourself for the 'quick-tempered' and 'affectionate' year ahead.

Bangkok, Day One

Bangkok is colourful. The Chatuchak markets... are not. They are, however, enormous. Frighteningly so. It's bigger than some American cities, and densely packed. Apparently you can buy anything you can think of in these markets, if you just know where to look. Looking for a delicacy? Live squirrels, in tinny tiny cages. Want to engage in some cruelty? Fighting cocks, with steely razors superglued to their talons. We spent hours there, nearly the whole day in the humid stifling heat, and we didn't even see any of that. But I doubt we saw much of the markets at all. They are just too big.

Breakfast was some mediocre street food, coconut and taro sticky rice in banana leaf packets for me, some grilled bananas for Craig. Lunch, on the other hand, was spectacular. A footpath cafe, serving noodle soups, with fresh veggies on the table to customise your meal.

We picked up a bag of tiny, tart strawberries, and the vendor asked if I wanted sugar on top. I said yes, and he spooned a heap of pink crystals over the berries. It wasn't sugar. Or well, it was sugar, but it was something else, too. Something a little confusing.


Southeast Asia has mastered the combination of sweet and salty in a way I'm not sure I've ever experienced. All the fruit juice has salt mixed in; it not only helps you sweat and gives you minerals, it also just tastes better. Seriously, give it a try. It's amazing. Later that night, Craig got a coconut-mango sticky rice; it was sweet, starchy, mango-y, and coconutty, with just a slight trace of salt accentuating all the flavours. Incredible. I'll never go back to simple-sweet sticky rices.

A week later, we told our friend Paul about the genius of salt and sweet in Thai food, and he said Khmers do it, too. He's taking French classes with several Khmer students, and their teacher was trying to explain was black pepper is.
She said, "It's a spice, you know, you keep it on the table."
And they didn't understand.
So she said, "It goes with salt. You know, what you eat with salt"
And they said, "Oh, you mean sugar?"

Well, they may not know what pepper is, but I reckon they're onto something with this sugar/salt thing.

At Chatuchak Markets, we picked up some cheap clothes and walked around. The heat forced us in and out of the markets every few minutes; outside the markets, the streets were sun-scorched and bright. Inside the markets was shadey, but the air was wet and stuffy, claustrophobic. We could only take either one for a few moments at a time. Until we found refuge in the charming Chatuchak cafe. An iced coffee, with loads of sugar and Carnation Condensed Milk, is surprisingly refreshing in Bangkok's stifling humid heat.

That night, we went to see an Aksra theatre performance. This is one of the coolest things I've ever seen in my life. Huge statues of Hanuman and demons dominate the lobby.

The Aksra theatre does traditional Thai puppetry. The puppets are about 1.5 feet tall, and it takes three people to operate one. And they make no attempt to hide the puppeteer. One person controls an arm, another controls the feet, and the third controls the other arm while also holding the body of the puppet. This picture is from here.

The three puppeteers have to be in complete sync with each other, so they dance to keep in time. Because the puppeteers are so skilled, occasionally you do get tricked into thinking the puppet has independent life, even though you can clearly see the masters! It's brilliant because the performance has so many layers. You can watch the puppet dancing; you can watch the puppeteers dance; you can watch the strange organism made up of 3 puppeteers and a puppet. Sometimes the puppets interact with each other, and sometimes they interact with their own puppeteers. Like ventriloquism and puppet shows combined. Amazing. Or you can watch the whole stage show, made of several groups of puppeteers and puppets. The show was about three hours long, and despite not understanding a single word, we were riveted.

The performance also included a fun Muay Thai demonstration. And also there was a really weird Cockfight Dance. Go ahead and read that again. You're not mistaken. I did indeed write Cockfight Dance.

Two women come out dressed as roosters. With huge feather tails and headdresses on. And men come out dressed as...well, men.

And the men got the cocks (women) all riled up, by blowing under their tailfeathers (that's right), and then the women danced like they were fighting.

It was super weird. Thailand weird.

The last puppetry performance of the night was an excerpt of the Ramakian, which is basically the Thai version of the Hindu Ramayan. Now, I grew up with stories from the Ramayan; even though my childhood was largely non-religious (and nearly sacrilegious), my mom couldn't filter tales of Ram, Hanuman, and Lakshman from my world. But this was a really strange experience. Because the puppets looked like little Indian people, dressed in Indian clothes, and doing Indian classical dance things with their hands. But they were singing in Thai. It was a little like getting a whiff of your third-grade teacher's perfume 20 years later, in a strange country, surrounded by strangers. Familiar, surreal. Culture, eh?

The best part of the puppet show, though, was that (1) Craig and I were the only tourists in the audience-- I will never know why and (2) during the intervals, the puppeteers brought the puppets out into the audience and the puppets played with the children in the audience. Hanuman came and talked to a little girl near us, and she blew him a kiss. Cute.

Before every movie showing or performance or public game, the Thai national anthem is played, and everyone has to stand. At first, I was worried because I've only had to stand for the whole American national anthem once, and I got really bored that time. And it's in English. But it turns out the Thai national anthem is short. And it made me think: if you had to stand up for the anthem every time you went to see a movie, do you think the American national anthem would be officially abbreviated? We have a really long one, folks.

Another thing I found really interesting was that Thai people don't wear any kind of traditional dress anymore. You'll only see traditional Thai dress at a traditional Thai dance performance or something. Otherwise, on the street, everyone wears Western clothes. But Indian women wear saris and kurta tops even in Western cities-- it seems like Indian people have held on to their fashion a little more tenaciously. Maybe. I hear all that's changing in Bombay these days.

We saw a lot of Bangkok that day. We visited MBK, a gargantuan, labyrinthine mall in which we found not one, not two, but three (count 'em!) THREE food courts. We saw several free nighttime concerts set up on temporary stages: awkward teenage girls in skimpy dresses, standing awkwardly, singing in public and not very well. We drank beer in a dark brickwork bar and listened to Thai men cover Paul Simon and Michael Stipe. And we saw statues on the street we can't explain.


In more current news, our friends Benedict and Monika just became parents last week! Henry was born on Thursday 4th February, and Craig and I got to visit the freshly-minted human last night, on his one-week-iversary! He's beautiful and sleepy. He smells good and can't scream very loud yet. His skin is still slippy and thin, and his toenails are impossibly small. He has pretty grey eyes, and we're somewhat in love with him already. His parents are two of the most thoughtful and wonderful people we've ever met. And we were amazed by them last night. Not surprised, but still astonished, because you see, they're brilliant parents already. It's only been a week.

And even Henry knows it. Look: he can't believe his luck.

I call him Hank.

06 February 2010

Save Me the Waltz

Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, I've finished re-binding my copy now, and I've given Zelda's novel a second read. It's idiosyncratic, it's bizarre, but it's also occasionally genius. She describes David Knight's (F. Scott's) hair as having the colour of "eighteenth-century moonlight." Breathtaking image. But then she also falls into episodes of parties told so impressionistically, you'd have to stand 3,000 miles away to see the picture she's painting.

The story is her own, the plot follows her life almost exactly. David Knight is an acclaimed painter, not a writer. But other than that-- the story is her life. A Southern girl, maybe a little flirty, charmed off her feet by a handsome young military man with no money, but plenty of ambition. Alabama, Zelda's alter ego in the book, is young, immature, and throws remarks of dustbin-quality philosophy at anyone who crosses her path.

From the beginning, David Knight makes Alabama feel insecure, unsure of her position in his life, carving "David, David, David, Knight, Knight, Knight, and Ms. Alabama Nobody" into a tree while she waits for him to ask her to dance. Though they marry and find fame through David's canvases, she never feels like her family approves of her life, and though she's always been a bit of rebel, she wants to be her father's princess, too. She wants her whims, and to be applauded for them.

The Knights are the toast of New York, they frequent the Riviera when it's still a quiet beach with only one rather lousy hotel. The Knights become American royalty, of a sort. They have a baby, Bonnie, who goes on to be raised by a Nanny, and becomes the snob that rich children deprived of proper parents often do.

Throughout the book, Alabama struggles to create an identity other than just David's wife. Not content with waiting around while he paints, she annoys him; she always wants to go to another party, if only to have something to complain the next day. She ends up in a flirty, poetic affair with an aviator, which ends with Alabama crying and screaming at David, with David jealously threatening to leave her. They fight. Violently.

Eventually, Alabama finds her calling, the one thing she can actually be bothered to do. She takes up ballet, at the age of 28; at this age, after having had a child, the odds are against her even achieving even a modicum of success. Of course, Alabama wants to be the best; she must not only have her whims, her ambitions must be met as well. She works herself to exhaustion, ignoring her literally torn muscles, her blisters, her bruises and infection. She neglects her society friends to practice at studio; she neglects her daughter. Offered a place in an Italian ballet, she leaves David to care for Bonnie, while she desperately tries to carve a name for herself, independent of David's stellar career.

And this is where Alabama's life and Zelda's life part ways.

For Alabama, her dancing lands her in hospital, fighting against a deathly infection. David and Bonnie fly to her side, and with their love, she survives, though unable to dance ever again. She and David rekindle their friendship and love, and they visit her family home to say a last goodbye to her beloved father before he expires. The family re-united in the peaceful South she knows and trusts.

For Zelda, this obsession with ballet was an early indication of later mental instability. Her fights and competition with F. Scott were signs of a marriage under too much strain. Scott's drinking led to alcoholism and indifference. After her dancing nearly broke her, Zelda was admitted to various asylums; she wrote this book in one after a breakdown caused by her father's death. And finally, she died in a fire at yet another.

In Save Me The Waltz, Zelda clearly feels that she is financially dependent on Scott; when she leaves him to study ballet, she realises David bought her all the clothes she owns, and now that she can't afford to buy anything, she'll just have to wear these clothes out. She lives in his extraordinary shadow, but still he jealously keeps her from being extraordinary in her own way. He wonders aloud if she knows that she's much too old to be any good at ballet. Interestingly, in Tender Is The Night (F. Scott's own thinly veiled novelisation of his marriage to Zelda), it's Dick Divers' dependence on his rich wife's money that destroys his ambitions, keeps him from developing into the promising talent he was meant to be. They find in each other the excuses they need to explain their lives.

Scott had plenty of friends to call Zelda crazy and jealous. Hemingway accused her of intentionally trying to sabotage Scott's work, accused her of trying to take him down, compete with him. But without her, Scott couldn't have written the way he did. The relationships in his most masterful pieces are his marriage, the women are Zelda. In Gatsby, Daisy's famous line (where she says she hopes her baby is born a beautiful fool) was taken directly from Zelda's mouth. And though Zelda and Scott both present Scott as the solid one in their books, he wasn't so innocent of cruelty toward her, as well. When her doctors told him that publishing Save Me the Waltz would be good for Zelda, he kept her from using stories from their life that he had intended to use in Tender is the Night. Zelda's alter-ego in Tender... is Nicole Diver, the model of the beautiful, crazy girl, whose vulnerability attracts and repels Dick.

It's easy to imagine Zelda this way, as an over-anxious, hysterical, self-important woman who didn't know how to stop being the centre of attention, even if it took acting wild, partying hard, and sabotaging her husband. It's far too easy to see F. Scott as the withered hero of American letters, slowly driven to perilous drink by a jealous, unstable woman. But it's too simple to look at things that way.

Because Zelda can write, in moments of brilliant lucidity. Because Scott needed her to write the way he did. Because they are American royalty, glamourous and spectacular. And because being American royalty demands one thing: an equally spectacular crash and a glamourous slow burn.

View all my reviews >>

4 Airports. 3 flights. 2 days.

At Sydney's airport on Christmas day, we changed our Australian money to USD, the currency of choice in so many developing countries. The smell of the bills rushed our memories; funny that we remembered the smell so distinctly, but strange that the smell remained on these bills, so far from home. How can plain paper and denim have such integrity; how can it keep its characteristics across the world?

A flight from Sydney to Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur International Airport is about eight hours. During landing, a Tourism Malaysia video treats you to a rhyming synecdoche likely unparalleled anywhere else:

"Malaysia is truly Asia
The soul of Asia is surely here
The essence of Asia...
Is Malaysia"

KLIA is not without its charms. An outdoor jungle room, with rainforest plants and piped in jungle sounds. A sculpture collection of Malaysia's most famous native species, the huge stinkflower featured on the Simpsons and the orangutan. The Malaysian airport also gives one thoughts to ponder. For example, Malaysian doesn't have its own script, so everything is transliterated into the Latin alphabet. The native, Chinese-based script slowly surrendered first to Arabic then to European colonial rule. Vietnam's script only became Latinate under the French. So recent, but so much forgotten.

Another example: the Malaysian flag is nearly identical to America's. It has the red and white stripes, the blue field. Just instead of white stars for states, it has a yellow crescent moon and star for Islam.

Wikipedia says it may be due to the immense influence of the British East India Trading Company in the region-- and that the US flag may have been influenced by the same. Hmmm. That's not what we're taught in school, now is it? So much for throwing off our British oppressors... or maybe it's a very apt and subtle recognition of the nascent capitalist class that was leading America to freedom from taxation to the crown...

All of these charms are fully enjoyed in your first hour at KL International Airport. And yet you have another 8 hours of black night under bright fluorescent lights before your flight to Phnom Penh. Going into an unknown city at midnight doesn't seem wise. So you try to get some sleep. In the airport.

The lights are blaring. The airport intercom plays a few annoying tones every time an announcement is made, and the repetition of those tones seeps into the shallow, fitful sleep you hold onto with white knuckles and fingernails after a few hours of uncomfortable twisting on hard seats and a hard floor. A Christmas night so grim. Six hours of this sleepless sleep, children screaming, and in the morning, yet another flight to board.

There is absolutely no redeeming value to air travel.

Except maybe this: my boarding pass for the flight to Phnom Penh is for "DALAL, NIJAMS." That's gold.

At Phnom Penh's airport, we wait at the muggy outdoor terminal, eating noodle soup and drinking beer. The PA system is playing "Jingle Bells," literally the one song we thought we wouldn't hear. We meet Patrick, a French-Canadian hippy weirdo, with a long lost front tooth. He's on his way to Bangkok, too, so we talk about passport design, about Thailand, about Canada and Celine Dion.

We wish we hadn't talked about Celine Dion, and order more beer to wash her out of our mouths and minds.

One more flight, and finally, we're at our destination. Victory is ours. 4 Airports. 3 flights. 2 days. Bangkok. Patrick wheels and swings us around the parts he's already seen. Khao San and Rambuttri. Trok Mayom. Street names that sound like Hindi mashed right up against Chinese. "Chakra" slammed into "pong," thus, Chakrapong, a busy artery of Banglamphu.

Though this city has been through several stages of Western-style development, with all its faceless concrete box and roller door numbers, you can still occasionally catch a wooden Thai house, up on stilts, hiding from the march of time among its more modern counterparts. You can find lanterned laneways, beautiful places to drink and talk about luck and dreams, deja vu and the astral plane with a charming and garrulous French-Canadian hippy, with stringy ditry-blonde hair in a ponytail. But it'll still smell like piss.

Our guesthouse is in a serious backpacker warehouse zone; it looks a bit like Public Storage, but the entrance is in this weird little alley, filled with old giant teapots, carts, bamboo ladders. These teapots could make 20 litres at least. Huge. There are stray cats in all the corners, looking a little more than half wild. Bangkok is squished, smelly and has very little graffiti.

We walked until we were too tired to keep walking, past the hideous, onerous, ridiculous Democracy Monument and back. We ate at an Indian restaurant. As we left the place, we found ourselves suddenly in the kitchen of another restaurant. People will open up shop anywhere in this city; so long as there's a cooker and a little space, they will cook. The street food vendors choke the footpath; pedestrians walk in the middle of the street, occasionally stepping aside to let a scooter pass. At an intersection, we came upon a huge group of white people, playing drums, dancing, drinking and generally throwing themselves a party. Women in sarongs jiggled vulgar and threw their hair around. Men rocked their pelvises back and forth. Why travel to Thailand to do this? Patrick laughed and clapped along, "There's always something happening in Bangkok!" I thought our friendship might be wearing a bit thin. Craig and I looked at each other, one of us choosing amusement, one of us choosing disgust.

Sleep came easy that night, and by the next morning, Patrick was gone. We don't even have a picture of him.

04 February 2010

Dear Hair Diary...

Hey everyone, check out Nija's mop! She's trying to grow it out and it's really starting to look good, a bit Beatlesque:

Okay, okay, that's not how it normally looks. She just combed it all down to see how long it is.

It is looking good, though, hey? Promise to keep you posted!

02 February 2010

Scramble plus gravy equals bibi kush!

Hi everyone, here's another in our recipe series. This is an almost-weekly component of our culinary profile, my approximation of the tofu scramble and gravy served by the Sevananda hot bar on Saturdays. Over the course of two years, I think we've honed this one as far as it can be honed barring the addition of some truly funky ingredients. Frankly, it's the best tofu scramble I've ever had. It doesn't taste like 'Asian' stir-fry and with enough crisp veggies you can reduce the amount of tofu considerably, which seems to be the direction we're going in.

Anyway, it's a hum-dinger, and paired with some biscuits/toast and coffee I believe it's the perfect hangover meal, any time of day! Enjoy and let us know if you've tried it. We'll post photos of our next batch so you can compare!

krg's Sunday Brunch Bonanza: Tofu Scramble + Creamy Gravy

For scramble:
1T + 2t oil (your choice)
300-500g firm/extra firm tofu, drained
1/4 medium onion (20-25g), diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small hot chilies, chopped
1/4-1/2 small capsicum, diced (optional)
1T soy sauce
1/2c vegetable broth
2-3 medium mushrooms, sliced
1/3c zucchini, sliced
1/2-1c broccoli
1/2t apple cider vinegar
1/2t turmeric
1/8t cayenne
1T nutritional yeast
small handful basil, chopped (optional)
cilantro (optional, to taste)
sesame seeds (optional, to taste)

For gravy:
2t butter/margarine/oil
1T all-purpose flour
1/2c vegetable broth
1t soy sauce
1/4c soymilk
1T nutritional yeast
1/8t cayenne
salt & pepper to taste

Heat 2t oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 30 seconds, then add garlic, chilies and capsicum. Saute for another minute and scrape into a bowl. Place pan back on heat and add remaining 1T of oil. Crumble the tofu into the pan and distribute evenly. Let brown for 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle soy sauce over the tofu, add sauteed veggies and gently fold the mixture together with a spatula or large spoon. Turn heat down slightly and allow the tofu mixture to continue browning uncovered.

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet or saucepan on medium-low. Add butter/margarine/oil and let melt (if not oil). Sprinkle in flour and, with a fork, combine completely with oil, making a roux. Allow to brown for about a minute, then remove from heat and let cool for 2-3 minutes. Add broth. Immediately go at it with your fork, mashing up chunks of roux; if you can't mash them up finely, you can blend the gravy with an immersion blender at the end. Whip this mixture up as much as possible with your fork, adding soy sauce to ease the mixing. When completely mixed, add soymilk, stir, and return to heat. Ensure the heat is low enough so that the gravy is not bubbling, just lightly steaming or simmering. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Returning to the tofu, add the broth and stir with your spatula to deglaze the pan and unstick any stuck bits. Add mushrooms and let cook until most of the moisture has disappeared, stirring occasionally. No more than ten minutes before you're ready to eat, add the zucchini, broccoli, vinegar, turmeric and cayenne and stir to distribute evenly. If the mixture is too dry, add up to 1/3c water to deglaze the pan and steam the broccoli. Cover and let cook for 2 minutes.

The gravy should be thick at this point; if it looks too thick, add 2T water and turn up the heat, stirring constantly. Adjust until the consistency is to your liking. When you're happy, add cayenne and nutritional yeast and salt and pepper to taste (easy on the salt if your butter/margarine are already salty). Mix thoroughly and remove from heat (now you can blend it if it's too chunky).

To finish the tofu off, sprinkle the nutritional yeast over the top and mix, then add the sesame seeds and herbs as you see fit. Let cool a bit, douse in gravy and hot sauce, and enjoy your weekend!