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Posts Tagged ‘vegetarian’

Can eating organic make you thin? Apparently, yes.

Heirloom Tomato Slice (from abbyladybug flickr)

We’re not just talking collard and broccoli and sprouts and squash.  There’s organic chocolate, beef, spaghetti, cereal, the works. Intuitively, I can understand why organic is healthier.  No pesticides, no hormones, no genetically modified goodness knows what.  There’s nothing in there that will hurt us.  Nutrition-wise, people seem to have been on the fence.  An organic tomato probably has the same amount of calories as a regular tomato, right?  I’ve not done the research, so don’t hold this all over my head.  But vitamin and mineral-wise – I mean, come on, folks, look at the organic tomato! Compared to the waxy colorless lifeless orbs piled high at the super, how can it not have a gazillion percent more good stuff in it?

Check out this wonderful and surprising video by Mary Schook (visit her blog FoodIncAvenue).  Tell your friends.  This is awesome.

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Eating in America – Casual Budget Vegetarian Dining

It has never been this difficult to be a vegetarian in the United States.  Perhaps I take it for granted, living in Israel – everything is so salad-based, so kosher-themed (if not kosher itself) with meat and milk being eaten separately, that more than half the choices at any given time seem to be vegetarian.  Not so in the US.  Have times changed since I was last a vegetarian (1992-2000)?  Granted, I was a child (13-21) when I last abstained from eating animals and was less aware and ate out less as a rule.

For my own sake I decided to document where I ate over the course of my trip.  Usually I made choices according to budget, convenience, and menu, in that order, unfortunately or fortunately.  I think I gained a kilo or two while away.  Oh well.

I’ll go city by city, as there’s a lot of text.  Chicago is the least interesting because I got to eat and cook at home, which is far cheaper and far far more interesting fare than at most eateries I can think of.

Chicago

  • Panera Bread – Walking into an establishment that appears so healthy, fresh, and modern like Panera Bread – and be presented with only 1 meat-free sandwich – is quite frankly appalling.  Two vegetarian soups and three simple (dull – green, Greek, etc) vegetarian salads (out of 8) were also on the menu.  I ended up taking half a Mediterranean sandwich (very dry and exceptionally uninteresting, seeing as I live on the Mediterranean coast myself) and a tomato-based vegetable soup.  First time I saw that American eateries are wild about chicken.  Ugh.
  • IHOP – The comfort factor is quite high at a place like this.  In Israel we (I) miss the fast polite service, familiar (butter soaked) foods, and endless cups of crap coffee and half & half.  There is nothing even remotely similar.  IHOP is breakfast, slightly upscale fast food (you get to sit in comfy booths and get served), cheap, and oh so traditional.  Yes, it’s crap.  But it’s good crap.  Crap you miss.  Instead of a stack of chocolate packed pancakes, my parents and I all inadvertently ordered from the “healthy choices” menu, where we could see how many calories we were actually consuming, and this with the egg-substitute, grease-free, veggie-ful type omelets.  So much for overlapping crispy meat byproduct mingling with eggs and sausage swimming in pools of maple syrup.  At least the coffee is still…coffee.  And endlessly we drank.
  • Eduardo’s – Chicago is known worldwide for its unique deep dish pizzas.  They are oh so good, lovely rustic shells of crusts, bursting with thick layers of cheese and rich tomato sauce, one slice being more than a meal in and of itself.  Anywhere but at Eduardo’s so it seems.  The service was so bad, it’s simply not worth mentioning our level of suffering.  And the pizza was crap.  I was embarrassed to be eating it with out of towners.  Enough said.  Go to Pizzeria Uno or Due or Lou Malnatti’s or Giordano’s or whatever.  Eduardo’s was never my favorite.  And I will never be going back after this.
  • The Corner Bakery – this “Lettuce Entertain You” restaurant sure has changed.  It’s fast, slightly interesting Italian, order at the counter style.  But there used to be more choices.  They used to cook most everything in front of you while you waited anxiously.  There were rosemary encrusted loaves and pine nut spinach tarts and the best ceasar salads you can imagine.  Now, eh.  You order everything, and you don’t get to see it.  It does come to your table, though. But the assembly line has taken over.  I had a three-salad combo.  Not much to choose from, I got macaroni caprese, a bean salad, and a Greek salad (I think).  They were pretty unremarkable.  Healthy-ish, though.  Filling.  Decent portion for “fast food.”  A good choice at the mall, I guess.
  • The Celtic Knot – Evanston – Awesome. Irish pub, Irish-British cuisine. Comfort food with an upscale twist. 90% meat menu, but the veg options were brilliant.  My mother had a portabella sandwich with freshly fried potato chips (not fries, for those non-American readers).  I got a warm spinach salad with goat cheese, cranberries, and candied walnuts.  That was heaven.  Best meal in Chicago, by far, and on my last night in town.  We ate the meal accompanied by Cider (mother) and a Snake Eyes for me (half cider, half lager – a drink that’s illegal in many parts of the British Isles because it’s said to raise a person’s temper and make them mean and prone to fighting.  Don’t ask me why.  Someone once ordered one when I was bartending in London, and not knowing what it was, went to the asst. manager.  He told me what it was, said I was never to make one, and then he proceeded to pour one for the gentleman because “he knew him.”)

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I haven’t blogged in an eternity.  It has been difficult to share with people what I experienced a few weeks ago, and I’m still not sure I want to – or if this story will interest anyone.  I feel I’ve become some sort of missionary – but please know that that is the last of my intentions. Without further ado – here’s the blog post.

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Does sitting silently with 100+ strangers in the middle of nowhere for 7 days sound like a vacation to you?  I don’t know if I was nuts out of my mind when I signed up, but it did indeed sound like the perfect getaway for this stressed out Telavivian.

From March 31 to April 6 I attended a Vipassana Retreat – a living meditation immersion, where from 5:30 am to 9:30 pm all time was devoted to sitting, standing, and walking meditation in the Theravada Buddhist tradition – conducted completely in noble silence.

I can say with certainty that attending this retreat (hosted by the incredible Tovana organization and led by Dharma teacher Christopher Titmuss) was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

For those who don’t know anything about Buddhism, I don’t want to go into detail here and risk boring or alienating you.  What I would like to do is share with you even a small bit of what the experience was like.

Buddhism in 10 words:

There is suffering, and there is an end to suffering.

The Buddhist teachings, known as the Dharma (Dhamma in Pali), spoke so clearly to me.  To even touch upon them in such brevity would be fruitless here.   They tell of a “middle path,” not one of religion and not one of secular life – away from both the comforts of blind faith and competitive addictive materialism.  The smallest summary – Buddhism is the most peace-loving and logical philosophy and practice I have ever encountered.  And I stress philosophy and practice.  Buddhism did not begin as a religion – it became one – probably contrary to what the historical Buddha would have wanted.  This is not to say that all the religious Buddhists today are in the wrong.  But I do want to communicate here is that you can be a good Jew, Christian, Muslim, or anything else, and still practice meditation, live by Buddhist ways.  Never did we speak of God.

The meditations, difficult as it is to sit on your ass for 8+ hours every day, frustrating as it is to hear yourself silently repeating over and over, “why the fuck am I here,” eventually become incredibly beautiful experiences.  I don’t think I have ever experienced such complete calm as I did then.  After a few days, your senses become heightened.  Smells, sounds, tastes – both within your body and without – become acutely fine-tuned.  Silence, a scary concept for busy city dwellers, becomes a beautiful, no, a precious commodity.

Calmness – however – is not the goal of meditation. Vipassana means insight.  If we can quiet all our voices, focus our minds, practice mindfulness, we then are in a position to really examine ourselves.  Before I started meditating, I thought that it would be easy or boring or simply a tactic at reducing stress.  Now I know it’s a difficult lifelong process.  It is a process of learning how to end suffering. Because we all suffer in varying degrees – from the drudgery of work, to the annoyances of family, to the very fiber of our social structure of making it, making it big, buying it all, impressing the neighbors, becoming famous, seeking out the finest pleasures, and reviling all that is ugly and painful.

Coming back to Tel Aviv was not as difficult as I had expected.  I believe this is because I learned to process fear differently.  I wasn’t dreading the drudgery.  I wasn’t scared of life after the calm.  But I also didn’t know how to share what I experienced.  I still don’t.  I live with my sister, a beautiful human being, who I believe is governed by a lot of anger and self doubt.  It would be highly unlikely that she would even want to begin to understand.  Some friends gave me wide eyed, “oh my god she’s gone off the deep end and joined a cult,” expressions while politely nodding.  Luckily, I found several groups to study and meditate with.  I have meditated twice every day (or more, on days I have meetings and classes) for a month.  For related reasons, but not ones altogether decided upon, I have not been eating any meat.  I have been sleeping more, and I have found that the life I had found to be exceptionally dull, painful, and hopeless at times (time spent with yoga, wine, food, friends, good books being the exception), was all of a sudden not only tolerable, but beautiful.  I wash dishes.  I clean the cat box.  I work at the computer.  And I am fine.  I do not suffer. As much. It is a process, after all.  And boy oh boy, does it take time and learning.

I am stopping now.  If you’d like to know more, please email me.  If you’re in Tel Aviv and want to come with me to Dharma talks and/or learn how to meditate, email me.  In all, dear readers of mine, please know that I am actually happier than I was.  There are those few moments in our busy lives when we can stop and put a finger down and say, “here, now, I am happy.”  I’m having more of those now than I’ve had in a long time.

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This is what arrived in my basket today

A little perspective to show you just how monstrous they are

Well, they're kind of pretty, in their own way

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Our own personal Proustian Madeleines.  In this case, an Italian sandwich.

If we’re attuned to it, I think we all have these moments daily. A smell we notice while walking down the street, a new food at a cafe, someone’s perfume, laundry, kitchen. And BOOM — you’re instantly transported into a memory.  Sometimes the memory is unclear for me — I can’t pinpoint it, but I can usually assign a time period or location.  Late high school.  Sometime at summer camp.  Ireland.

And sometimes, you know exactly where and when that trigger takes you. That happened to me at lunch yesterday.  I was trying to get some work done at the Loveat on Yehuda HaLevi (after having an awesome haircut at Tomer Reshef, I have to mention — best place in Tel Aviv for curly hair — bar none).  Lunch isn’t cheap at Loveat, but it’s vaguely organic there (perhaps just the coffee), and with the larger sandwiches, you get your choice of side dish — I had a cup of split pea soup — a real treat compared to what you get at most cafes.

Loveat - I really like the atmosphere at this branch

My chicken panini (or gabetta, as they call them here — I’m pretty sure they mean ciabatta; panini would be far more appropriate as that refers to a sandwich often made of a ciabatta; whatever, it’s Israel) was incredible.  When I took the first bite, I was transported back to the 2rd floor coffee shop of the Reynolds Club at the University of Chicago.  This cafe functioned on take out — basically, all the restaurants in the neighborhood brought their best takeaways — pad thai, pad seeyu, curry and rice, samosas, and tons and tons of sandwiches.  I was a vegetarian at the time, and I often got the roasted vegetable sandwich from Pizza Capri (it’s still on the menu!).  It was heaven: roasted red peppers, eggplant, perhaps zucchini, perhaps a slice of cheese, and tons and tons of garlic.  I can assert to the fact that it had peppers, eggplant, and garlic — the rest is a little hazy.

Although my Loveat gabetta had chicken, the rest of it was very much like my sandwich of yore.  The roasted red pepper I think was what took me back.  And why is this significant?  I almost lived in that building.  The theatre was on the 3rd floor, and I think I had 80% of my meals from that coffee shop.  I may have eaten more than 200 of those sandwiches over the course of 4 years.  When I had my internship at Steppenwolf Theatre, there was even a Pizza Capri across the street — and I ate it once or twice a week that whole summer.  The flavor and texture of that sandwich represents the blood, sweat, tears, and every ounce of passion I put into my undergraduate education.  It represents the grimy yet super-comfy theatre lounge I hung out at every day, where I ate half my meals, where I caught up and prepped before classes, where I piled onto ancient sofas with friends and collaboratively did the New York Times crossword, where I held weekly production meetings, where I memorized lines, where I read play after play after play, where I played snood and mac-brickout and checked my telnet email account on ancient computers, where I developed and fine-tuned proposals, where I planned my future and dreamed.

Reynolds Club 2nd floor coffee shop - much as I remember it

It’s almost ten years behind me now.  Seems like yesterday, and I can’t believe how far I’ve drifted from what that girl thought she’d be.  And that sandwich.  Do we go back and try to jump start what we used to love or thought we loved?  Is it pointless to try?  Is it too late?  I didn’t know it then, but it was the happiest time of my life.  Sure, I was miserable a lot.  But I was also challenged and busy and growing and trying and achieving and failing and was surrounded by some of the most interesting people I have yet known.  That sandwich yesterday highlighted my relatively isolated and somewhat stagnant state.

It’s time I announced my intentions: I want to go back into academia.  It will be very different this time.  Nostalgia will probably play a distracting and not-too-positive role in this.  But I’m doing it.  It will take time.  Part-time completion courses.  Maybe a second masters degree in order to get where I would like to be — an excellent doctoral program.  Not in theatre.  A social science/philosophy type course.  Life is horrible, complex, beautiful.  I study it anyway.  I want to be with people I can speak with, research with, and who have passion for these abstract and seemingly ridiculous and impractical notions.  Perhaps I’m sounding arrogant and idealistic here.  Probably.

Powerful sandwich, that. Wouldn’t you say?

A fantastic blog article – a picture-laden tour of the University of Chicago — with a particular focus on all its bizarre coffee shops (my fave was not focused on, however — although I am proud to say I frequented ALL of the ones featured).

Imaginative & refreshing cinnamon lemonade at Loveat

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This is yet another fantastic transfer article from my old blog.  It was really popular a few months ago, and as I read this fascinating story about a new “Urban Caveman Diet” in the New York Times yesterday, I felt it more than relevant to share this with all of you.  I admit I sound a bit like a militant anti-vegan, but I assure you I’m not.  It was just my mood at the time.  As evidence, I’m cooking a big vegan meal for a dinner party I’m hosting this Friday.

The ideal human diet is a topic that really intriques me. It should interest everyone, really. What we eat is who we are. The food and drink we imbibe becomes the fabric of our cells. And given the spiral of ill-health around the world, the raging debate (at least in some circles you’ll find me visiting) around vegan-ism being the true natural diet for humans, my oft-hesitant carnivorous tendencies following nearly a decade of vegetarianism, and of course, the fact that I adore cooking, food history, etc, etc, it was serendipitous that I came across this article today.

The Healthiest Foods On Earth!

According to this article by Jonny Bowden, published in Forbes, it’s not necessarily what you eat, but how processed what you eat actually is. There’s a lot of debate as to what the “original” Paleolithic human diet was. Quite varied, probably. Depending on where we originated (rather where our ancestors migrated to and settled into many, many, many thousands of years ago), our predecessors may have thrived upon a high fat, high protein diet (hunting seals and the like in Greenland), or low protein, high carbs (in southern Africa), milk and fatty-cream (Switzerland…and from a documentary I recently saw…Mongolian nomads today thriving mainly on horse milk and yogurt), or even blood. Crazy, right!?

Wrong. The issue I have with vegans is this specifically. Human beings were never vegetarians. Maybe we were when we were apes. But there’s a reason we’re not still apes. Our ancestors were resourceful, and depending on where they wound up, may have gotten up to 65% or more of their intake from animals. You know, it’s probably the reverse…we ended up where we did because we learned to hunt and gather in this way. We learned to survive. We are learners and adapters. We are human.

Anyway, back to the article. Which made a lot of sense to me. It’s not what you eat, entirely, but how processed it is. The more natural the food, the more whole, the better it is for you. Even meat. Even meat. Sure, the best animal for you to be munching on would be grass fed in an open prairie-type environment that was never ever injected with any hormones or antibiotics. And then there’s milk and eggs. Perfect nutrition. So really, if we stop eating food with preservatives, if we stop eating fast food, fried food, food that doesn’t in a million years resemble food, we’ll be OK. It makes sense to eat organic. To cook simple foods at home. To eat lots of fresh fruits and veg. Nuts, berries, eggs, broccoli and its family, wild fish, raw milk, beans, grass-fed beef. Sounds good right? Better than a big mac? In a heartbeat.

My Message to Vegans

Keep at it. Love what you eat. Fight the man. It’s a good fight. But lay off me. Your logic usually sucks. I agree that most animals we eat are practically (or actually) tortured. That hormones and antibiotics are terrible things to be injecting in them and for us to be absorbing in turn. These policies are huge, most people don’t know about them, and something needs to be done. But eating animals the right way, drinking milk the right way, eating eggs the right way…I can’t see why that isn’t OK. Perhaps it disgusts you to be thinking that you’re taking part in murder or that it’s revolting to be eating an animal. OK. Good for you.

But chew on this – we (yes, including you, fellow vegans) would not be here, living this life, having created this society in this world (whether you like it or not), would it not have been for our ancestors learning how to hunt and kill and eat and eventually cook other animals. We would not have progressed. We would not have our intelligence. We would not have migrated across the entirety of this globe. Because I learned one really interesting (and almost bizarre) fact today, after having done some fancy (ordinary) internet research: the overall health and life expectancy of humans dramatically declined with the advent of agriculture. That’s right. Early farmers, the ones who enabled us to stop moving and develop cities and writing and technology, were shorter, sicklier, had far more infant mortality, died earlier, and were plagued with a myriad number of diseases.

Seems like we should all be pulling together for all of us to go back to a real Paleolithic diet, a la Fred Flintstone.

As for me, I’ll be looking for organic meat and eggs and milk in Israel. Anyone any ideas? Especially in the meat department?

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I’ve used coconut milk several times this week, and I have to say, I’m sold.  A jar I had had on a shelf for over a year came in handy in helping me figure out how to make vegan potato latkes at the last minute.  There was no time for even a quick internet search, and I needed to make the potatoes and the flour bind without eggs.  Needless to say, the coconut milk worked OK.  Not great.

But it left me with 75% of a jar left over.

What did I use it for, do you ask?  Teva Castel, the local organic grocery, had a sale last week on buckwheat noodles, the Japanese soupy variety.  I bought four packs (some an interesting green tea flavor), as pasta goes quick in my house.  The thing about these noodles, however, is their thicker and chewier texture, not to mention a more earthy flavor.  Not your Italian pasta.  I couldn’t make a European-style tomato-based vegetable sauce go with it, and I didn’t have the time and patience to make a Japanese-style broth for it.

So here’s what I did the first time – and it was spur of the moment, big time, let me tell you.  I boiled one serving of the green tea noodles in salted water, as you do, cooked to slightly under my desired level of done-ess, and strained.  In the same pot, I sauteed eminceed onions  (halve an onion lengthwise, cut very thin rings) with olive oil, lots of soy sauce, cumin, turmeric, chili, hot paprika, and sweet dried basil – lots of it.  When the onion had cooked for a minute, still slightly hard, I returned the noodles, dripped a bit more olive oil and tamari sauce, stirred, and then added about a third of a can of coconut milk.  I stirred the whole concoction on medium heat until the milk was absorbed/evaporated, and what was left was a sticky gooey noodley Thai-style dinner.  It looked like Thai green curry, I kid you not.

It was delicious.

I made a slightly more elaborate and slightly better planned version of this a couple days later involving garlic and sweet potatoes, in addition to the onions.  I cooked those earlier in the process in a frying pan (potatoes take a while, dontcha know), AND I tried infusing the veg in the pan with the coconut milk first, THEN added it to the strained noodles back in the pot.

Again, de-lish.

And what do I mean by the great equalizer?  I mean that coconut milk is exceptionally versatile and useful.  I have a very good friend who is vegan, and I haven’t been cooking for him for a while.  Well, here’s a solution.  I am nearly certain that you can replace coconut milk for regular milk in almost any recipe and come out with good, if different, results.  Sometimes, much, much better, as it’s very fattening.  In fact, I intend to try it out in ice cream, the quintessential dairy dish, something my vegan friend and several lactose-intolerant friends have expressed missing a great deal.

In a world where people are abandoning dairy as a potentially unnatural source of nutrition for humans (not that I am expressing any sympathy or antipathy for the movement), coconut milk is a natural replacement in cooking.  I wouldn’t have it in my Cheerios.  But I prefer it over already-somewhat-processed soy or rice milks.

For more interesting vegetarian recipes, I’ve got a pumpkin-apricot-red lentil soup AND my famously wacky-delicious fusion taboule.

AND read on to learn about the disastrous shopping trip this coconutty-post inspired!

Happy holidays, folks!

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