Me, you, tamales and the Boston Vegetarian Festival this Saturday

Tamale making elves...I mean students, at work

Tamales tamales tamalesthe cry of the street tamale vendor sometime heard in Queens reminds me that it’s time to get cracking making tamales. In the spirit of the fall tamale making season (tamales are year round eating, but I love the smell of steaming masa in cool weather) I’m going to be presenting a vegan tamale-making demonstration this Saturday morning 10:45 at the 2010 Boston Vegetarian Food Festival. These tamales will be stuffed with of chipotle-seasoned beans and roasted sweet potatoes, a damned fine combination for fall-inspired eating.

If you can’t make it to Boston I still hope you’ll have tamales on the brain as much as I do right now. Here’s a snippet of how I put together a tamale assembly line, essential for mastering batch after batch for your next tamale party explosion.

For assembly I like to set up my workspace as follows:

1)  Soak the dried corn husks. Make sure to soak an additional 4 for tearing into strips and 6 or more for lining steamer basket

2)    Prepare filling and let cool enough to handle.

3)    Set up the tamale assembly space such as a large clean cutting board and large plates for stacking finished tamales. Set up steaming basket and fill steaming pot with 3 to 4 inches of water. Line basket with soaked corn husks. Have a small bowl of cool water handy for moistening hands, useful for patting sticky tamale dough.

5)    Make the tamale dough. I like to make it right before I’m ready to start filling and use it while still warm.

6)    Assemble the tamales by spreading the dough onto soaked husks, filling, wrapping and tying. About half way through making the batch of tamales I like to put a lid on the steaming pot, turn the heat on high and try to time getting the water boiling by the time I finish the last tamale.

7)    Place tamales into steamer basket. The easiest way to do this is by leaning tamales against the sides of the basket, overlapping tamales slightly in a spiraling pattern. If you have too much space in the center (enough that tamales tend to fall over), fill the space with a crumpled ball of foil. Don’t pack tamales too snug; leave a little room to allow tamales to expand while cooking. Place basket into preheated pot, cover and steam tamales for at least 50 minutes, up to 1 hour.

8)    Test cooked tamales by using tongs to removing a single tamale, let cool for a minute and peel back the wrapper from one end. Tamales are done when the husk wrapper pulls away easily from the tamale. Cooked masa feels solid and has a somewhat firm yet tender texture. Maybe you could say it’s like firm, sliced polenta, but way better. Sometimes cooked tamales may still be a little sticky. Slightly sticky tamales sometimes just need a little more cooling, about 20 minutes, to firm up and be no longer tacky.

Before I forget, the Daily News

It’s too easy to let things slip through the cracks and my apologies if this is old hat to you, but I was in the Daily News (NYC daily that is) a few weeks ago.

Further apologies to all of the produce I felt up during our photo shoot at the Union Square farmer’s market on that idyllic summer Friday afternoon but hey, who can blame me, look at these gorgeous peppers (and check out the tomatillos in back).

Interveiw with a Vegan, Gen Con Edition

Adventure awaits you in the exciting field of temporary (time travel) staffing!

Vegans and gaming (role playing games ala Dungeons & Dragons, board games, video games for example) go together like nutritional yeast and popcorn. It’s no secret my interests including vegan stuff often swerves in the direction of games, comics and sci-fi. And I’m not alone: the vegan nerd–tribe is growing every day. This week I’m off to Gen Con in Indianapolis (kind of like a Comic Con for gamers) to carouse with thousands of other die-hard gamers and very likely there will be a smattering of vegans (plus more vegetarians) wandering the convention grounds.

Epidiah Ravachol, commonly known as Eppy, has not only allotted skill points to his vegan ability but is also a proven independent role playing game designer. Author of Dread, Time and Temp and the shiny and new Dread House and Swords Without Master, Eppy is also a veteran attendee of Gen Con. He and I chat about the ups and downs and all-arounds of finding vegan eats when you’re resigned to days at a big convention center and nights in hotel and mall centric downtown (without a car to do much exploring) and with just an hour to refuel before the next big convention event.

T: It’s interesting how over the years of visiting downtown Indy we’ve seen places come and go, most of them uneventfully but you always remember the ones that make an effort for veggie eats. The now closed J. Gumbo was a regular for me two years ago with a homemade white bean vegetable gumbo, great beer and chatty service: the waiter told me personally how the chef made sure to work in a good vegan entree on a typically non-veg friendly menu.

But the biggest surprise had to be the first time we stumbled upon Hard Times Cafe (RIP) many years back. How would you describe the vegan chili there? Remember the peanuts…it had freakin’ peanuts!

E: Yeah, so Hard Times Cafe. When I first went in there, I was all ready for the vegan diet of the road: french fries and coffee. If I was lucky, a pickle. But no, amongst all the bar food and not-so-vegan chili there it was. Vegan veggie chili that was not only edible, but downright toothsome. And with peanuts. Brilliant!

My memory’s fading, but I vaguely recall you could also get the chili on a bed of noodles [think it was optional to have it served  “Cincinnati-style”, THR]. Though that might be some Skyline chili from the road trip to Indianapolis. The things I put in my mouth getting and from Gen Con, I swear.

T: Conventions can be quite the test when it come to staying fed, it’s usually all chain restaurants and ferreting out veggie-friendly mall food. What was the best meal you’ve had at Gen Con, and dare I ask the worst?

E: Gen Con meals are all about who you’re with. There’s a super-expensive place right near the convention center that isn’t exactly vegan-friendly, but super-expensive often means a bit more accommodating.

For the past two years the Design Matters booth has been going there near the end of the con ostensibly to celebrate and discuss the future. Though generally we just end up trying to teach our Scotsman [and fellow game designer Gregor Hutton, THR] how to pronounce “condom”. And you’d be surprised at how that truly makes a meal.

T: Agreed on all counts! It pays to pay more sometimes. There’s a few sushi places (great for basic veggie rolls and edamame) I plan on hitting up and dragging friends along with. I’m sure we can locate a surplus Scottish game designer to read the menu out loud to us.

E: The worst meal has to be Stake-n-Shake. And I’ll leave it at that.

T: I shudder on your behalf, but that’s in the past. Here’s to a bright future convention full of memorable, or at least interesting meals! Last year I recall many of our proverbial veggie butts were saved by a new convention area spot Noodles & Company (they actually knew what vegan was). I typically went for the udon with extra broccoli. What’s your favorite? How many times did you eat there (myself maybe 5 times at least)? I’m not ashamed to say I probably went there twice in one day. When you’re pressed for time there’s comfort in familiarity (and cheapness).

E: The Udon is good. Damn good. But it’s my backup. It’s my first choice for my second visit to Noodles & Company in a day. My first choice for my first choice is always the Indonesian Peanut Sauté, often with grilled tofu. That peanut sauce with the cilantro and the fresh squeezed lime on it! And a liberal helping of Sriracha, because that’s how I roll.

T: Oh man that ‘s right, they have Sriracha! A breath of hot, garlicky, fiery fresh air.

E: I was so damn happy to see Noodles & Co last year. Last year, as were rolling in, I was getting all warmed up to complain about what a cruel joke it was that they left the sign for Hard Times up a vicious reminder of the vegan chili that was once right next door to the convention center. But there it was, Noodles & Co., a franchise I remembered from my Madison days. And again, so freaking close to the convention center. Relatively cheap, filling and tasty vegan food, all for the having!

T: Do you pack vegan provisions with you? I have the standard rations of granola bars, dried fruit and nuts and tea ready to go. One year I brought hummus with me thinking I would just unpack the mini bar fridge in the hotel room, load it with hummus and fill it back up with the unopened $6 soda cans when we check out (not a soda fan so no risk drinking it). Imagine my surprise when all of the mini fridges were replaced with strange new devices rigged and ready to ring up any charge at the slightest tampering…kind of like that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark with the golden idol head and bag of sand switch out. Except I’m no Indy in Indy and can’t elude that trap.

E: I always think I’m going to pack some vegan provisions to tide me over. I also always think I’m going to publish my games months before the Gen Con deadline. In both cases I tend to fail. So I end up eating a lot of bagels with peanut butter or the fruit that coffee shops keep around to look healthier. But here’s the thing: If you’re willing to walk just a few blocks more than your average Gen Con goer, you’re in for a few treats. Again, my memory’s fading, but there’s amazing guacamole to be had just outside the Gen Con consumer radius. There’s also the Indian restaurant. I went there a couple years ago and I haven’t found it since. But I hear tell it’s still there, perhaps it moved.

T: That Indian restaurant was a life-saver and it definitely went somewhere else, I mourn the loss. It’s true though that the good stuff is probably at least good 20 minute walk from the convention center, such as a farmer’s market on the weekend and I’ve been told the really good vegan stuff is in the Broad Ripple neighborhood, but it sounds like we’d need wheels to effective get to and from it in time. Either way I think we’ll find something to keep our hit points flush for the next few days.

Anyway, did I tell you how mystically awesome the cover to Swords Without Masters? It made me cry swirly dragonfly tears of joy as illustrated by Roger Dean.

E: Thanks! I figured you’d enjoy it. That’s an aesthetic we share. The younger kids with their ironing-board-swords and porcupine armor might not get what’s happening there, but we old-timers know that’s a little something called Fantasy. I might have a preview edition of Swords Without Masters ready for Gen Con but I’ll have finished editions of Dread House and Time & Temp to sell.

Visit Eppy and his Design Matters cohorts at their booth #2100 in the Dealer’s Hall at Gen Con Indianapolis this week August 5th-8th. If you’re a master of downtown Indy vegan eats post your wisdom-nuggest below and keep vegan gaming alive this year!

On Libraries and Cupcakes…

Bumper sticker on back reads: "My other bus is a cupcake love machine"

Bumper sticker on back reads: "My other bus is a cupcake love machine" (image from Flickr CC State Library of New South Wales)

I did a guest blog post for TuTor.com about libraries, cupcakes and metal bands that sing about sci-fi authors (you read about the coming Dewey Decimal tattoo trend of 2011 here first).

Read it here and pass it onto your favorite rockin’, cupcake baking librarian!

I’ve discovered Tumblr

Muffin as seen on Tumblr and only there!

Far from being a Ponce de León of cyberspace, I’ve been schooled on the tiny joys of Tumblr (thanks Isa!). There’s something clean and unfussy that lured me into using it for mini-blogging on a semi-regular basis. By semi-regular I mean three times this week, a blazing world record for the likes of me.

What this means for veganlatina.blog I’m not entirely clear. I suppose this space will be reserved for an in-depth treatsy on avocado handling or diagrams of pupusa aerodynamics (who can say in this crazy mixed up world). Tumblr will be for all of those random thoughts I wouldn’t LiveJournal but don’t seem quite right on FaceBook.

I imagine my ideas are like those gooey rubber 25 cent octopi encapsulated in plastic bubbles found in supermarket vending machines. Launch a few full force at a wall (wall being social media) and see which ones rightly stick or instead flop to the ground and become covered in muck. So I’ll just keep finding new walls to toss ideas on until something sticks around long enough to avoid being coated in lint and cat hair.

So for now, be sticky and Tumblr with me at Crumbs on the Keyboard.