Corn and Zucchini Fritters

Fritters close 2

I had a fridge full of ears of corn and wanted to try something different with them. The word FRITTER just kind of appeared in my mind, which is weird because I had literally never made any kind of fritter before. I did a bit of reading online to get a sense of what to do (though I was really surprised at the variation in recipes; some with flour, some without, some with liquid, some without….). Then I just kind of went for it and was so pleasantly surprised at how well these turned out. I whipped up a quick avocado dipping cream to go with them. I think these delicious and very easy fritters will become a regular menu item!

I’m sure these would lend themselves to lots of variations, especially with different fresh herbs or seasonings. I used chickpea flour mainly because I’ve been wanting to try working with it, but I think almost any flour would work pretty well (Note: depending on which flour you use, they might not be gluten-free anymore).

roasted corn

To roast corn on the cob, remove the outer husks so that a few leaves remain covering the corn and cook in oven at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes or until done.

Yield: about 10 fritters

  • Kernels removed from two cobs of roasted corn (see above), or use 1.5 cups canned or frozen
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated
  • 1 handful chives, chopped
  • 1 cup chickpea flour (would probably work with other flours too!)
  • ½ cup water
  • Tabasco to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Coconut oil for frying

Add corn, grated zucchini, chives, and flour to a mixing bowl and combine well. Add a few dashes (or more!) of Tabasco, then start adding the water gradually while stirring the mixture. You may need a little more or less than half a cup; just aim for everything to be moistened into a batter that will at least sort of stick together when you scoop some up with a spoon.

Fritter batter

Heat about a teaspoon of coconut oil over medium heat (about 6) in a nonstick frying pan. Drop large spoonfuls of the corn mixture into the pan, using the back of the spoon or a spatula to flatten them out a bit. Cook until golden on one side, about 4 minutes, then flip and continue to fry until cooked through. Add another teaspoon of coconut oil to the pan for each new batch. Place finished fritters on a paper towel until ready to serve.

Fritters cooking

Serve with the avocado cream or with hot sauce, chutney, or vegan sour cream.

For the avocado cream:

  • 1 avocado
  • Juice of one lime
  • ¼ cup of nondairy milk (just enough milk to get it all to purée to your desired consistency).
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Small handful of chopped cilantro

Add all ingredients except chopped cilantro to a high-speed blender. Blend, then fold in chopped cilantro.

Great Expectations Aren’t Always Great

DragonAerie

Why didn’t I write about Dark Souls II?

I’ve been asking myself this question since I finished my first playthrough a couple of months ago. And each time I ask myself, I feel guilty and avoid actually considering the answer. Today, as I started considering angles for a post on Wolfenstein: The New Order, I realized that I couldn’t just pretend Dark Souls II hadn’t happened. I need to say something about it.

After some reflection, the answer I have come to is this: I didn’t write about Dark Souls II because the experience of the game did not match up with my expectations. The difficulty of acknowledging this blocked me from writing anything at all about the game.

Everyone has had the experience of letting their expectations for [a game, a movie, a restaurant, an experience, anything really] get too high, resulting inevitably in some measure of letdown when evaluating the real thing. Dark Souls II was a fantastic game, and I loved it. But it couldn’t possibly live up to the expectations I had been building since playing the original Dark Souls and immediately hoping for a sequel. And that is on me, not on the game or its developers.

So, even though some time has passed since I played it, I will write about Dark Souls II. Post to follow ASAP.

Have you ever had problems with letting your expectations of a game get out of control?

Mango Quinoa Salad

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This fresh salad gives you that yummy Thai mango salad flavour with more substance and protein, and less chopping. It’s win-win!

Makes about 5 cups of salad

*When prepping the mangos and veggies, try to make all your pieces around the same size (except the red onion, which should be smaller).*

  • 1 cup quinoa (dry measure), cooked and cooled
  • 2 small-medium mangos (see note), flesh removed from pit and diced
  • ½ English cucumber, diced
  • 1 small red pepper, diced
  • 3 green onions, green parts only, sliced
  • ½ small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro, leaves and stems, chopped.
  • Lime wedges and cilantro leaves, to garnish.

Dressing:

  • Juice of 1.5-2 limes (if you’re reaming the limes, one and a half should be enough)
  • ½ teaspoon brown or turbinado sugar
  • ½ teaspoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 3 tablespoons oil (I used safflower, but any oil that doesn’t have a strong flavour would work)
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes (or more, if you like it spicy)

Note on the mangos: I used ataulfo mangos that were moderately ripe. If you like your mango salad with firm green (unripe) mango flesh, by all means use green mangos. Try to avoid fully ripe ones, as they are difficult to cut and lose their cube-y shape.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients and adjust to taste.

Combine the cooled quinoa with all other salad ingredients. Pour the dressing over and toss well to combine. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes, then toss again just before serving. Garnish with lime wedges and cilantro leaves.

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Favourite Recipes, Baked Goods Edition: Cornbread and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Deliciously and moist cornbread

When I was vegetarian but not vegan, I was very skeptical about vegan sweets and baked goods. I would visit Fresh restaurant in Toronto and devour everything on the lunch or dinner menu, but never even try the (vegan) desserts. Obviously, I was way wrong and ignorant. I know now that vegan sweets and baked goods are every bit as wonderful as the traditional ones, and even better for being made with compassion.

Here are two of my favourite baking recipes, for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and cornbread. These aren’t my own recipes; I’m a baking beginner. Both of these recipes can be whipped up and in the oven in less than five minutes (seriously). Both are absolutely top-notch and ensure that you’ll never have to look for another oatmeal chocolate chip cookie or cornbread recipe.

Cornbread

This recipe for cornbread from Pickles and Honey is perfect. Ridiculously easy and virtually foolproof, the cornbread is delicious either as directed, or with endless variations like added jalapenos, vegan cheddar, roasted corn, or whatever else you’d like to throw in. I follow the recipe exactly and don’t make any changes (except add-ins).  Served warm and smeared with some vegan butter or margarine it is so, so good.

Cornbread

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Growing up, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies were my favourite sweet by a large margin. After going vegan I tried several recipes with variable results. This recipe from Vegan Occasions blew my socks off when I tried it. R. loves them, my mom loves them, everyone loves them.

Recipe tweaks: I find that the cookies are just as good with 1 cup loosely packed sugar, rather than the 1.25 cups called for. You can also trade off a little bit of the oil for extra juice (apple or orange juice work equally well) if you like.  If you’re using mini vegan chocolate chips rather than the stadard size, I suggest reducing the amount to 3/4 of a cup.

Important: Don’t overcook these cookies! I find that they take about 10 minutes. Watch them like a hawk for the last couple of minutes and remove as soon as they start to turn the slightest bit golden. If they do end up getting a bit too much time in the oven, they will cool crispy rather than chewy. They’re still great, but I suggest a few seconds in the microwave to soften them up before serving if they’ve cooled hard.

Best cookies EVER

Game Review – Alice: Madness Returns

R. and I downloaded this game through the Playstation store one recent evening, basing our purchase solely on distant memories of playing its predecessor, American McGee’s Alice, on a PC over ten years ago.  We enjoyed the first Alice game for its dark twist on the familiar (and already dark) tale of Alice in Wonderland, and for its beautifully psychedelic environments and characters; it even featured a blunderbuss well before the steampunk renaissance of recent years.  For $20, we figured we’d get some fun of out a new installment while waiting for some other titles to be released (cough cough… DARK SOULS 2).

This action-adventure title, developed by EA and Spicy Horse and released in 2011, was exactly what I expected: fun, full of easy puzzles and variably difficult battles with interesting and wacky enemies, rounded out by an engaging story.

The storyline, delivered largely in appealing 2-D cutscenes, revolves around Alice Liddell, a young woman who is haunted by the murky memory of her family perishing in a housefire for which Alice may or may not have been responsible.  She resides in a sort of minimum-security asylum, and I liked the way the story used themes of mental illness and psychosis (though admittedly in an entirely superficial way) to explore Alice’s forays into a warped and dangerous new version of Wonderland.  The familiar characters are present, albeit in forms altered and twisted from those depicted in Lewis Carroll’s Alice books: the Cheshire Cat; the Mad Hatter, March Hare, and Dormouse; the Caterpillar; the White Knight and Queen of Hearts; along with a truly despicable new adversary.  As the story of Alice and her quest to unravel her memories deepens, it enters some extremely dark and quite disturbing territory, especially in the final chapters.

Image from electricblueskies.com

The environments are predictably beautiful, ranging from lush and luminous forests, to card castles in the air, to labyrinthine caverns of pulsating flesh.  The art design is similar to the first Alice title and provides a lot of ambience that makes up for sometimes repetitive jump, lever, and platform puzzles.  The game is highly linear, and one significant complaint I had about the game progression is that the path taken regularly closes behind, meaning that backtracking to double-check for hidden items or optional challenge rooms isn’t possible.

The gameplay is simple, using a small repertoire of moves and weapons.  Using double- and triple-jumps, paired with a gliding ability, Alice precariously navigates a world of ledges, moving platforms, and easily-solved puzzles, collecting teeth to use as currency in weapon upgrades.  There are lots of secret areas to find and explore, and though most are pretty easy to spot, many have extra layers of “secretness;” you may find a hidden room containing a cache of teeth, but return to the main path too quickly and you might miss a false floor leading to yet another secret area with more collectables (the somewhat pointless “memories” and “bottles,” disappointingly serving only as collection achievements.)

Alice also has a fun “shrink” ability that allows her to temporarily see chalk markings indicating hidden items or upcoming enemies, otherwise-invisible platforms, and hidden miniature paths only accessible to a mouse-sized Alice.

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By the second of five chapters, Alice’s arsenal is fully stocked, with two melee and two projectile weapons, as well as a small explosive device that is useful mainly to distract enemies.  These weapons are upgraded using collected teeth, but the upgrades are global and don’t provide much noticeable difference other than a new colour and generally increased power.  Battles are fun and fast-paced, if repetitive, generally relying on a combination of projectiles to weaken or stun and melee attacks to do heavy damage.  When her health is almost depleted, Alice can go into “hysteria” mode (I love the nod to Victorian mental health terminology here) and fight invincibly for a few seconds in a last-ditch effort to finish the battle.

DLC content comes bundled with the game as currently available in the Playstation store.  Included are a range of alternative costumes, each of which comes with an overpowered ability or buff (except for the Cheshire outfit, which eliminates health drops from enemies), and alternative weapons, which are also overpowered.  I suppose these items are meant to facilitate play on the Nightmare difficulty setting (or perhaps for a second playthrough), but I wasn’t able to equip any of them on my first playthrough (on the Difficult setting) without resulting in a total lack of challenge in the game.  Which was a pity, because from an esthetic perspective the alternative dresses are fantastic, and I would have liked to be able to equip them without added abilities.

If you decide to play Alice: Madness Returns, know what to expect.  It is not a difficult nor wide-ranging game, but the visual appeal, new and very dark take on a familiar story, and well-paced gameplay make for a worthwhile foray.  If you need a game for a bad-weather weekend or some casual pick-up-and-play fun, it’s a good download for the money.

Image from electricblueskies.com

Post edited to add commentary on the DLC.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out – A Nostalgic, Delightful Simulator

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Back in November, R. downloaded a game onto to our iPad mini.  I hadn’t heard of The Simpsons: Tapped Out, and when he showed it to me after playing for a couple of days, I didn’t immediately get it.  Developed by EA, Tapped Out is a simulator featuring the Simpsons.   The game opens with a nuclear meltdown leveling Springfield.  The player’s task is to rebuild the town, unlocking characters by constructing their associated domiciles and buildings.  Delightfully, most of the characters are voiced, with new and true-to-character soundbites.

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Starting with only Homer and Lisa (a nice pair, as their odd-couple dialogue recalls the back-and-forth on the tv show), the player assigns tasks to characters that take a set amount of real time to complete, ranging from a few seconds to a full day.  Completion of tasks earns money and experience, gradually unlocking more buildings, characters, and decorations (everything from trees and plants to dumpsters and stop signs).  Gameplay therefore tends to happen in short (2-5 minute) bursts, every few hours or once a day or whatever you like.  The game is a free download with real-money microtransactions available to speed up completion of tasks or to get bonus goodies.  As a rule, I don’t do microtransactions (though I’d have been happy to pay a reasonable price for the full game) so I have played strictly the free game.

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It took only a few days of play for me to get hooked.  I’m told that Tapped Out has a very similar format to the once-ubiquitous Farmville, a game I haven’t played.  It’s clear to anyone that uses Facebook that Farmville was a highly addictive game, so it makes sense that Tapped Out is as well.  Plus, as a child/teen of the 90s, I am naturally a longtime Simpsons fan, so the chance to play a simulator featuring the beloved and familiar characters, town, animation style, and classic jokes is a real draw.  (For Valentine’s Day this year, one holiday-specific reward was a Choo-Choo-Choose You train.  I can’t pretend to be immune to such a delightful bit of nostalgia).

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Lots of games are loot-driven, or based on the general promise of unlocking new “things” that tempt the player ever forward.  Tapped Out combines this time-tested reward system with nostalgic familiarity, and that intersection is exactly where massive addictive potential is born.  If I was playing a game with similar gameplay but not based on anything familiar, I might be kind of looking forward to obtaining new characters (or whatever), but that drive would be based only on the desire to achieve (applicable to virtually every game) and perhaps some vague curiosity.

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Curiosity cannot compete with the feeling I get when I am assigned the task of building Springfield’s Buddhist Temple, which will unlock Lenny and Carl.  Lenny and Carl!  I love those guys, and their banter!  I can’t wait to see what their assignments, dialogue, and animations will be!  I gotta build that temple!  Or, I can build Burns Manor, and unlock Smithers.  He’s finally out of the closet!  He has some of the best animations!  (Some of his assignments: “Whip It” with his licorice whip, pictured below; “Become a Hideous Drunken Wreck”; “Exercise for Mr. Burns” by independently powering a two-person bike; etc.)  How delightful to hear Smithers finally exclaim “I’m experiencing a whole rainbow of gay feelings!” and more suggestively, “Mr. Burns has an enchanting musk…”  This is GOOD STUFF.

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Additionally, Tapped Out is constantly churning out seasonal updates.  For Valentine’s Day, there are lots of new missions and mini-plotlines.  (Players were gifted with the classic one-off character Mindy, Homer’s alluring coworker and near-mistress.)  There is also a heart currency introduced for a two-week period, which can be accrued a few different ways and traded for love-themed prizes and decorations.  The multiplayer component of Tapped Out, while generally minimal (you can visit other players’ Springfields and produce small amounts of cash for yourself and them by doing so), is more prominent as the main way to obtain hearts is to send Valentine cards to other players’ characters.  Christmas offered a similar selection of holiday-themed content, and even minor occasions like the Superbowl or (American) Presidents’ Day warrant mention and small gifts within the game.

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You never know what’s coming next in Tapped Out, but you can sure it’s going to be something you loved from the Simpsons, and that is what keeps you hooked.  For now, I’ll keep saving up money to build Rainier Wolfcastle’s mansion.  Up and at them!

Dragon Fruit, Arugula, and Avocado Salad

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This salad is a delicious combination of tastes and textures: fresh and creamy, bright and peppery.  It’s super easy and quick to make, with just a few ingredients!  Plus, it looks impressive and is perfect for serving guests; dragonfruit has a mild taste (I find it similar to kiwi) and shouldn’t scare off those who haven’t tried it before.

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Yield: 2 large or 4 side servings

  • 1 large dragon fruit
  • 1 package baby arugula
  • 2 avocados, peeled and diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon (or more, if you prefer)
  • ¼ cup olive oil (or less, if you prefer)
  • 2 teaspoons agave nectar

To prepare the dragon fruit, first cut it in half lengthwise.  Using a large spoon, separate the flesh from the rind.  Cut the flesh into 1-inch cubes.

Combine the arugula, dragon fruit, and diced avocado.

Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil and agave nectar.  Taste and adjust with more lemon juice if desired.  Pour the dressing over the salad, gently toss to coat, and serve immediately.  *If you aren’t ready to serve the salad, hold off on adding the dressing until just before serving.*  Enjoy!

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