Vegan Tofu Tikka Masala

I love Indian food more than life itself, but while I was in quarantine with Miss Rona, I was bored out of my mind and in need of comfort. For me, cooking is a soothing activity, so… I started cooking. As it turns out, mastering my favorite dish — tofu tikka masala — isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at tikka masala, here’s how to do it.

What you’ll need (for the tofu)

⁃ 1 block extra-firm tofu

⁃ 1 tbsp EVOO

⁃ 1 tbsp cornstarch

⁃ 1/4 tsp salt

What you’ll need (for the sauce)

⁃ 1 can crushed tomatoes (as always, I prefer Cento)

⁃ 1 small onion, freshly grated or diced

⁃ 4 oz plain vegan yogurt (I used Nancy’s Cultured Soy)

⁃ 3-5 roasted garlic cloves (I bought mine pre-roasted from Fresh Market)

⁃ 1 tsp garam masala

⁃ 1 tsp cumin

⁃ 1 tsp ginger

⁃ 1 tsp turmeric

⁃ 1 tsp coriander

⁃ Salt to taste

⁃ Cayenne to taste

⁃ Canned full-fat coconut milk (to thin sauce if necessary)

⁃ Cooked rice (I used basmati)

What to do

1.) After pressing and draining your tofu, cut it into cubes, roll it through the olive oil, and then shake it around a bowl containing the cornstarch and salt. Throw the tofu on a baking sheet and bake it at 400F for 15-20 minutes or until crispy. You can also make the tofu in an air fryer if you don’t want to use oil.

2.) While your tofu is baking, you can cook your rice and your sauce. Start off by dicing or grating your onion, and then throw it into a deep skillet with the roasted garlic. The garlic I used comes packed in olive oil, so I didn’t need to add any to my skillet. (Substitute a bit of vegetable stock for your onions and garlic to simmer in for an oil-free recipe.)

3.) Once your onion turns translucent, add your vegan yogurt, spices, and crushed tomatoes. Give the sauce a stir so everything is incorporated. You may need more salt at this juncture, but I don’t like things overly salty, so I left it out. I do like my Indian food spicy, so I added about 1 tsp of cayenne to my skillet. You can use more or less, depending on your preferred spice level.

4.) In about 6-8 minutes, your sauce should be fully cooked through and begin to thicken up. If you like a thick, chunky sauce, you may want to leave it alone. I added a bit of coconut milk because my sauce was more of a paste. (Oops.)

5.) When your tofu and rice are done, mix the tofu into the sauce, add some rice and tofu to your plate, and enjoy!

I knew I was making this earlier in the day, so I’d already pressed my tofu. Once you get that step out of the way, you can have a delicious dinner on the table in around 45 minutes total. I was cooking for one, but you can always double — or even triple — the amounts listed to feed the whole family. Let me know if you try it!

October Favorites 2021

October Favorites 2021

What a year it’s been. What a year. I lost my cat and my mom more or less one month apart. Almost to the day. Sarek died June 21, and my mom died July 20. So… needless to say, I didn’t have any favorite things for quite some time. I don’t want to say I feel better now. Better isn’t the right word. But I’m capable of enjoying things again, even though nothing will ever be the same. Without further ado, here are my October favorites.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

Felicity Morrow’s girlfriend, Alex, vanished last school year, leaving residents at Dalloway School (a prestigious, all-girls academy) with only rumors and speculation. Did Alex run away after suffering public humiliation? Or did Felicity murder her? Convinced she’s being haunted by Alex’s spirit, Felicity is determined to discover what happened to her — no matter the cost. When acclaimed writer Ellis Haley comes to the Dalloway School to research the Dalloway Five, an unsolved 18th century murder of five young girls, Felicity finds a new friend — and possibly more.

Lee centers their plot around queer characters without falling into the category of writing yet another coming out story or the dreaded ‘kill all your gays’ trope. Lee’s novel dovetails gothic horror and fantasy while confronting privilege and mental health head-on. A Lesson in Vengeance is an ideal starting point for readers new to the genre while providing enough depth for seasoned veterans of dark literature.

(I read this back in early September, but I still wasn’t emotionally ready to consider anything a favorite at the time. But! It was one of the first things that came to mind when I was putting my list together.)

Powdered Oak & Seven Metals by Ryan Kurr

Guided by Spirit, Nina relocates her coven to the small, snowy town of Nova, Colorado. Unfortunately for Nina, a change of scenery brings changes within the coven. Leo, her most gifted witch, ventures off on his own, causing the coven to splinter. With dangerous witches, haunting prophecies, and moral dilemmas abounds, Leo must choose between saving the world or saving his soul. What does this mean for Nina and the coven? How does the story end? We’ll have to find out in the third installment, which Kurr is working on now. (Type faster, please. Like… seriously.)

Kurr’s second book in the Esoteric Alchemy series is nothing short of triumphant as he leads us on an intricately plotted journey featuring rich characterization, dazzling prose, and the author’s expansive knowledge of the occult. The witchy and queer communities will particularly adore Kurr’s deep, insightful work, but even non-witches will cherish this twisty, unputdownable novel. While this novel is stylistically different from the first in the series, the changes feel natural and appropriate given the complex plot line.

(Fun fact: I’m a few dozen words short of being classified as a speed reader, so I plowed through this one in a couple of days. It’s dense, but it also comes with recipes and a grimoire, so it’s not as daunting as you think. 10/10, highly recommend.)

Midnight Mass (Netflix)

When a charismatic priest (Hamish Linklater) brings miracles and mystery to the remote fishing village of Crockett Island, the townspeople grapple with renewed faith, guilt, and unknown terror. Don’t let the religious content frighten you away — Midnight Mass offers cerebral, creeping horror set against a backdrop of Catholic mysticism. Witness the slow decay of a dying way of life, character-driven twists and turns, and a shocking ending you won’t see coming. The series relies more on weaving a pervasive dread throughout than it does on jump scares. Midnight Mass is a slow burn, and the final conflagration is worth the journey.

As the heart and soul of the series, Kate Siegel and Zach Gilford turn in sweet, vulnerable performances. Samantha Sloyan channels Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus as Beverly Keane, playing the role so perfectly you begin to despise the actor herself. Fan favorite Rahul Kohli shines as Sheriff Hassan, a New York transplant who shoulders racism and religious discrimination with grace. Henry Thomas, Annabeth Gish, and Robert Longstreet (frequent Flanagan collaborators all) ground the series with subtle, emotive performances. But Midnight Mass is ultimately Linklater’s vehicle, and he steers it with raw precision.

(Props to my brother from another mother for putting up with my numerous quips and incessant need to scream about my love for Kate Siegel, corn, plantain chips, and blueberry muffins during our binge. You’re an actual saint.)

Aesop Seeking Silence Facial Hydrator

If you’ve been around a while, you know I used to have the oiliest skin on the planet. When I turned a little older (and a lot drier), I had to completely revamp my skincare routine. With the weather taking a turn for the frigid and heaters blowing on high, we’ll all be facing the winter scalies. Made with Dunaliella Salina Extract (a microalgae packed with antioxidants), ginger root, Bisabolol (a colorless oil from chamomile), and Narcissus Tazetta Bulb Extract (which comes from daffodils), Aesop’s moisturizer soothes redness and irritation without leaving the skin greasy.

I have combination-to-dry skin, rosacea, and eczema, so I need extremely gentle, hydrating products that won’t irritate my skin. Unfortunately, I also have acne-prone skin, so I have to avoid certain ingredients. As a vegan, it’s also essential that my skincare products (apart from prescription drugs) are never tested on animals. Products can be vegan — lacking animal by-products — without being cruelty-free. If it comes down to choosing a vegan product or a cruelty-free product, I will always go for the cruelty-free one. Fortunately, this one from Aesop is cruelty-free and vegan.

(I got my brother hooked on this stuff, too! The rings seen in this shot are also my favorites. Since it’s kind of hard to review jewelry, I’ve linked them. Moonstone ring: Bloodmilk. Wheel of Fortune ring: Etah Love. Sarek ring: Acid Queen Jewelry.)

Adana Beauty Pacify Rosacea Oil*

Tapping into the wisdom of Ayurveda, Adana Beauty uses a calming blend of Ashwagandha oil, Safflower oil, Honey, Safflower flowers, Kulisha oil, olive oil, Chamomile flowers, turmeric, and cornflower petals to calm redness, irritation, and burning. While the original blend isn’t vegan because it contains honey, the brand makes each batch by hand. Message them and ask for a honey-free bottle.

Many of Adana’s products are vegan — they’ll be clearly marked on the website — and they all smell heavenly. I slather my skin in Pacify every night (and sometimes during the day if I know I won’t be leaving the house), and I’ve seen a dramatic reduction in facial redness. It also helps calm down the eczema itchies.

(*The brand kindly gifted me a box of goodies to try out, but I’m not being paid for my review. I’ll always disclose when I’ve received payment to review a product, and I’ll give my honest opinion.)

So those are my October favorites. What did you love last month?

Where I’ve Been

It’s been almost a year since I’ve updated this blog. I would apologize, but a lot has happened. Some of it has been amazing, but a lot… hasn’t.

My beloved cat, Sarek, passed away from a stroke on June 21. Not even a month later, on July 20, my mother died of lung cancer. She was admitted to the hospital with a bowel obstruction, something she had numerous times. We thought it would be like the last time: drop an NG tube, deflate her stomach, and the obstruction will resolve.

Unbeknownst to us, her cancer had already metastasized to her brain. My uncle and I were at her side when she passed.

I say “unbeknownst to us” because she kept scheduling PET scans over the past year, and she was repeatedly told the same thing. Due to the pandemic, PET scans were being performed “on an emergent basis only.” She would have to wait. The wait cost her her life.

Please, please, please, get vaccinated and continue wearing a mask. If you’re hesitant about receiving the vaccine, please wear a mask and avoid crowds. Please be responsible. People who did everything right are dying because so many have fallen prey to misinformation, are crippled by fear, or blatantly disregard the lives of others.

You may not know this, but I’ve been my mother’s caregiver since 2015. It’s been the one thing that defines my life above all others. Losing her has thrown my life into a state of flux. I genuinely don’t know who I am without her.

I changed my URL as a tribute to my mother. “Golden Slumbers” was her favorite Beatles song. It’s the first song I remember hearing as a child, and it’s the last song I played for my mother on her deathbed. I also want “smiles await you” to become a motto for me. Right now, life feels unbearable, but I will grow around my grief. Eventually, I’ll smile again.

Thank you to everyone who’s been so supportive. You have no idea how much I appreciate your kindness.

Chadwick Boseman: American Hero

Marvel’s Black Panther

Actor Chadwick Boseman has died of colon cancer at the age of 43.

Boseman, most famous for his portrayal of T’Challa in Black Panther, personified grace and dignity onscreen and off. In April of this year, Boseman donated $4.2 million worth of PPE to hospitals serving the Black community.

A staunch supporter of the BLM movement, Boseman challenged Hollywood’s encouragement of “the epidemic of police violence and culture of anti-Blackness.”

Boseman made a name for himself playing Black icons like Jackie Robinson (42), Thurgood Marshall (Marshall), and James Brown (Get On Up), but it was the role of T’Challa that bridged the generational gap.

Black Panther gave Black filmgoers of all ages a portrayal of Africans that had never been seen before. In the fictional Wakanda, brains receive as much praise as brawn. Wakanda’s fiercest warriors, the Dora Milaje, are an all-female unit, and there is a heavy focus on STEM education in the Black community.

Boseman knew the profound impact the film would have on impressionable young minds. “There’s a thirst for a Black superhero,” he said. And he was right.

In the wake of protests following the tragic murders of Black people by the police, Boseman’s death feels especially heavy.

Black communities have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the death of such an inspirational figure adds another layer of grief.

It’s normal to grieve for someone you’ve never met. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of pain and suffering the world has faced this year.

I can only imagine how tired Chadwick Boseman must have been, but he chose to share his gift with the world anyway.

Diagnosed in 2016, Boseman portrayed T’Challa, king of Wakanda, in four action films. He allowed us to witness his strength and dedication without ever letting on that he was suffering.

But Chadwick Boseman should not be used as ableist porn. We can applaud his efforts without shaming others. I believe that’s the last thing he would want.

While most of us never had the opportunity to meet him, we let him into our lives (and our hearts) through his work.

He will never be forgotten.

Friday was the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It was also Jackie Robinson Day.

From now on, it will also be remembered as a day we lost a superhero.

Rest In Peace, King.

Wakanda forever!

Donations to BLM can be made here.

How to Help the Navajo Nation During the Pandemic

help indigenous population during covid theunscaryvegan

The Navajo Nation, the country’s largest reservation, stretches across 16 million acres of land in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. As of May 27, the Navajo Nation had the highest per capita infection rate — over 4,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 out of 173,000 residents.

By June 14, over 6,600 cases had been confirmed with over 300 deaths. While no longer the country’s coronavirus hotspot, the Navajo — or Diné, as they prefer to be called — suffered an infection rate higher than 15 states.

With an unemployment rate of over 40% and many residents living on less than $12,760 per year, the pandemic is yet another challenged faced by an impoverished nation.

One third of the population suffers from diabetes, heart conditions, and lung disease, further exacerbating the virus’ impact on infected individuals. Worst of all, the abysmal lack of grocery stores — only 13 in a 27,413 square mile area — makes social distancing nigh on impossible. Residents from different households frequently carpool to the nearest store to save on gas.

The lack of access to clean water is also a massive barrier against fighting COVID-19. According to a study conducted by the US Water Alliance and DIGDEEP, Native Americans face a greater lack of clean water than any other group in the country.

Casino closures have also devastated tribal nations. Dr. Philip Smith, a Navajo Nation resident, states that those living in the interior of reservations — in other words, further away from non-tribal land — rely on seasonal tourism work as their sole source of income.

help the navajo nation theunscaryvegan

And if all of this sounds like a disaster of epic proportions, bear in mind that it’s all a direct result of deeper, systemic abuse perpetuated by the American government against Indigenous tribes.

The CARES Act, the Federal coronavirus relief bill, allocated $8 billion to Native American tribes, but much damage had already been done by the time payments began to trickle out.

The Diné are fighting for survival amidst a global pandemic while facing abject poverty, limited access to water and fresh food, a crumbling infrastructure, substandard healthcare, and limited opportunities for education.

Here’s how you can help:

Donate directly to the Navajo Relief Fund.

Donate to the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 GoFundMe.

Donate to the Far East Navajo COVID-19 Response Fund.

Donate to Protect Native Elders.

Buy from Indigenous-owned brands.

Shop Native-owned Etsy stores.

If you run an Indigenous-owned shop, please leave the link in the comments so I can update this list!