I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'm dreaming of a Crawlspace Christmas

The front yard had been flooded for so long I had started to take it for granted. We had a boatload o' rain in November and guess I just thought the sump pump was still dealing with the residuals.

That's what I get for thinking.

On my way to work last Monday, I looked under the crawlspace again (during daylight hours this time) to see why the pump was running and hark! The pressure tank was spewing water to beat the band. Back inside, I turned off the breaker for the well pump, called work and let the supervisor know that Houston had a problem, then called the plumber to deliver the same message. They could get here the same day, yay, but not till after lunch.

By 3 pm, I was the proud owner of a brand new pressure tank and $650 worth of additional credit card debt. Note that I have been waiting for this tank to die for years, and when the plumber told me they are usually good for 20 years and the date of install was 1978, I consoled myself with the fact that ye ol' pressure tank was 13 years beyond its lifespan.

However. Holiday spending is now rather curtailed, not that it is ever over the top here anyway. There is a Poinsettia that was purchased before the pressure tank incident, which will now serve as the main decoration, along with some nandina berries (see preceding picture) scattered here and there. Perhaps the pressure tank could serve as the Christmas tree- I imagine it would be rather festive all strung up with lights 'n ornaments, however one would have to be in the crawlspace to appreciate it. So I have declared this year to be my Crawlspace Christmas.

One thing that is relatively cheap as far as holiday spending goes is food, if you do things right. Food may be the gift of choice this season. My middle brother and his family usually host Christmas dinner every year, and in the past I have often taken a baked pasta florentine (i.e., with spinach) as an alternative main to the turkey and/or ham they always serve. This year my sister in law requested the pasta dish specifically, and I am all aflutter because I will FINALLY have a wonderful non-dairy ricotta I am not afraid to use in my favorite baked pasta recipe, (read: I am not afraid that family members will say "Blechh, what the heck did you put in the pasta?") I have always broken down and used dairy ricotta in the past, which is not my preference. (The pasta florentine recipe will be posted at a later date).

Many, many non-dairy ricotta recipes were reviewed before I arrived at this one. It could be much simpler than this and would likely be just fine as a component of a recipe with other ingredients, but I was trying to recreate a ricotta that was relatively neutral, yet still had a "rounded" flavor. Those notes aside, if you want to eliminate the more esoteric ingredients (miso powder and maca powder, to be specific) I'm sure the recipe would still work. In keeping with the goal of a relatively neutral flavor, I did not add the typical Italian seasonings often suggested for non-dairy ricotta, as those will be added with other ingredients in the finished dish.

Maca powder is probably the most exotic, but it is available at many health food stores, and for most recipes I've seen is used in very small quantities (usually less than a tablespoon at a time). It is sometimes recommended for non-dairy cheese recipes.

Miso powder can likely be replaced with light miso paste, although I'm not sure of the conversion between dry and paste miso. Start with a teaspoon of paste miso, if that's what you have, and decide if it needs anything else.

Tofu Cashew Ricotta

Makes 2 cups, perfect for replacing a 15-16 oz. container of dairy ricotta

½ cup very finely ground raw cashews
(start with about a generous 1/3 cup cashew pieces, and use a spice grinder for finest grind)
1 Tbs. nutritional yeast
1 tsp. dried miso powder
1 tsp. maca powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. granulated garlic, optional (powder should work too)
¼ tsp. granulated onion, optional (powder should work too)
1 Tbs. neutral tasting oil, such as canola
1 Tbs. lemon juice, more to taste

14 - 16 oz. extra firm tofu, drained but not pressed

Combine cashews through lemon juice in a medium bowl and blend together.

Crumble half the tofu into the bowl and mix with the other ingredients, then crumble in the remaining tofu and continue mixing to thoroughly incorporate all ingredients.

Adjust seasonings, oil, and lemon juice to taste as desired, and refrigerate until use.

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