Monsters Under the Bed

Thursday, April 4, 2013

   As kids, when my siblings or I had a bad dream or were just feeling uneasy about the night, my dad would sit down with us, take a pen and piece of paper and ask us to describe the monster to him. It wasn't always a monster that was scaring us, but I know for me it felt good to describe whatever was bothering me as though it were a physical being. It taught me how to really describe and characterize what may only be an idea or feeling- not easy for most adults let alone a little kid. With his prompting ("Did it have teeth? What about scales? How many eyes did it have?") we invariably ended up with a respectably terrifying monster. After admiring his work and getting comfortable with the idea that whatever was bothering me was now confined to the piece of paper, we would go to the stove and burn it.

   I love that he figured out a way not only to allow our young minds to articulate our emotions, but that he knew something as simple as burning the image of that fear had the power to comfort us and ease our anxiety. It worked every time and I always slept like a baby after our ritual make shift fire.

   There is a lot to be said of fear. Fear can motivate us to make important changes, or warn us that a chosen path may not be such a good choice after all. It can bring us closer to each other- when I was contemplating getting out of the specialty of pediatrics I was very paralyzed by a multitude of fears. What if I irreparably derailed my career? What if I tried a new specialty and it made me equally unhappy? What if medicine wasn't for me at all and here I was after 8 years of higher education and hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt with nothing to show for myself? With Steve's help I took the leap and I'm happier and more inspired by my job than I ever thought was possible. I also couldn't be more thankful to have someone so brave and supportive in my life. Conquering our fears and limitations by ourselves can be quite rewarding, but I think approaching things with a true partner is infinitely better.

   I'd like to help you conquer a fear, albeit quite minor compared to monsters under the bed or major career choices, but an important one nonetheless. That fear is tofu.

   Tofu gets a lot of mixed press. There are people out there who will tell you tofu will flood you with estrogen- a scary idea for our macho menfolk or women who may have estrogen sensitive illnesses.  In reality, the phytoestrogen (which is just a plant molecule structurally similar to the estrogen we produce in our bodies- but not identical) present in tofu is an extremely small, ineffective molecule compared to human estrogen. There are many plants that have phytoestrogens and all of them would have to be consumed in massive quantities before having any sort of effect on our physiology.

   Unless you plan on consuming several pounds of this stuff for days on end, it's a perfectly safe and very healthy food to include in your kitchen arsenal. Look for organic brands- there is very limited information on the long term health effects of consuming genetically modified organisms (GMOs). At this point, it is best to avoid them wherever you can. One of the benefits of purchasing certified organic foods is the guarantee that all components are non GMO.

   This lasagna is layered pasta heaven. I defy you to miss the ricotta- the tofu 'cheese' is tangy, complex, herbal and creamy. The myriad vegetables in the veggie layer are fresh and meaty at the same time. This colorful dish also makes superior leftovers- I have to keep myself from breaking into my lunch bag too early when I have a square of this waiting for me!


Vegetable Lasagna
Liberally adapted from Oh She Glows

For the tofu ricotta:  
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 celery stalks, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14oz) package extra-firm or firm tofu
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
3/4-1 tsp kosher, or to taste
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves, minced
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley, minced

For the vegetable layer
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large portobello mushrooms, diced 
1 zucchini, diced
5 ounces baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 

To assemble:
9 sheets no boil lasagna noodles (also called 'oven ready')
5 cups marinara sauce
   To press the tofu: remove it from its packages, rinse under cold water. Blot the tofu dry with paper towels. Stack 3-4 dish towels on the counter, place the tofu on the towels and fold towels over the top of the tofu block. Place 2-3 heavy cookbooks on top and let sit for 10-15 minutes. If it soaks through the towels just move it to a dry area and replace the cookbooks.
   Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. When hot, add the onion and celery. Cook over medium-low heat until translucent and tender- the goal is to sweat them, not get tons of color. Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds until very fragrant. Turn heat off.
   Crumble the tofu block into the food processor and process until very smooth. Add the processed tofu to the skillet with the onions and celery. Add salt, cayenne, lemon juice, nutritional yeast and fresh herbs. Stir to evenly combine. Taste and add more salt if desired.
   In another skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add mushrooms and zucchini. Sprinkle with the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add spinach and cook until just wilted and the excess water has mostly cooked off.
   Assemble the lasagna: spread 2 cups marinara sauce in the bottom of a 13 X 9 inch baking pan. Use 3 lasagna sheets to make the first pasta layer. On top of the pasta, spread all of the sauteed mushroom veggie mixture. Make another 3 pasta sheet layer. Spread all of the tofu ricotta on top of this pasta layer. Make the final 3 pasta sheet layer on top of the tofu ricotta. Spread the remaining 2 cups marinara sauce over this.
   Bake at 375 for 35 minutes until bubbling and a knife passes easily through the pasta sheets. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving (this helps the noodles absorb the extra liquids and all the layers to set up a bit).
   Serves 6 generously.



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