Thursday, July 29, 2010

Vegging Out

I reorganized my recipe file on Monday. No, it wasn’t on my list of things to do during my vacation week. But on Sunday, when the mess of culinary clippings crammed in a kitchen cabinet made an ordeal out of extracting a bowl for Jim’s potato salad, it suddenly took precedence over re-potting my lavender and trimming the cat’s claws.

I’m not going to go on about how this project took far longer than anticipated. Or about the perfect file box I found at the Container Store (disguised as a greeting card file—something I didn’t know existed and probably also need!) But sifting through the recipes and deciding what to keep—and what to toss—took on an unexpected significance.

It was like looking through a photo album of my life, one that dated from when I got married (in 1977) to the present. Who was that woman who whipped up all those wok wonders? And casseroles with ground beef, noodles and Campbell’s soup as the main ingredients? Was there really an era when I made beef stroganoff and chicken cacciatore? Or when compiling ways to make mac & cheese and potato salad was my sole mission in life?

My pile of cast-offs grew—and so did my realization that the way I eat has changed dramatically over the past 30-plus years. As I labeled the tabs of my colorful new file and filled it with favorites and promising possibilities, several things became clear:

1. I’ve always eaten more poultry than beef or pork.
2. I’ve lived by the adage that eating fish in restaurants is preferable to living with the smell at home.
3. Pasta and any dish featuring beans or lentils is a mainstay.
4. Looking for new ways to prepare sweet potatoes or Brussels sprouts? Give me a shout.

Which leads me (more or less) to the point. At the start of the process, the biggest stack of recipes involved chicken. By the time I was done, it was vegetables. That’s because I chose to reorg my recipes at a time when I’m as close as I’ve ever been to becoming a vegetarian. I feel instant disappointment at not being able to write, “Because I am a vegetarian.” But that would be a bold-faced lie—considering the fact that at my son’s birthday dinner last night I had the signature dish at 5 Napkin Burger.

However, reading my friend Diane’s recent blog post about vegetarianism made me realize that, while I admire those who just wake up one day and—voila!—stop eating animals, I don’t need to apologize for that fact that, for me, it’s a process that’s been going on for several years. Lately I’ve been doing lots of reading and experimenting and talking with my friend Stacey, who is sort of in the same boat. I’ve been looking at the issue through a variety of lenses: from the health benefits and animal rights abuses to the impact on the environment.

To be honest, I don’t have one good reason to continue eating meat. In fact, going totally vegan would suit me best from a health perspective. Sure, it’s inconvenient: all that searching for weird ingredients and cooking—what a drag! And although I happen to like most non-animal sources of protein, far be it from me to try to convince Diane (or Jim) that tofu tastes as good as last night’s thick, juicy burger.

That said, I just finished Jonathan Froer’s book, Eating Animals, and can no longer stomach the thought of consuming chicken or pork. Even fish is making me nauseous. So I’m enjoying leafing through vegan and Ayurvedic cookbooks. Exploring local farmer’s markets. And searching for stores that sell quinoa and adzuki beans in bulk. A few weeks ago I stumped a clerk at Whole Foods when I asked what aisle the mirin was in (imagine that!) And I’m still searching for umeboshi vinegar—although I’m not exactly sure why.
And yet—I avoid crossing the line completely. Oh, to wake up one morning and just know! In the meantime, I’ll continue this process of elimination and try to be okay with it—which is no easy task. As Jake drove us home from 5 Napkin Burger, I said, “This might have been my last real burger experience. I’m thinking about not eating meat anymore.” Without missing a beat, he replied “Again?” Ouch.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Whole Lot of Nothin’ Real Important

I haven’t posted in quite a while. Okay –since June 20th, to be exact. I’ve got plenty of good reasons (or excuses, take your pick.) I was unfocused/journaling instead/reading instead/cooking instead/swamped with work/bored/tired/happier hanging with friends/unmotivated/lazy. Eventually it became the kind of thing where, the more time passed, the guiltier I felt. And the more it felt like an obligation. And you know how that goes. I felt exactly like I do when I haven’t called my parents for three weeks.

It’s not like there hasn’t been anything to write about. My journal is, in fact, filled with notes about things amazing, surprising and delightful. Like a weekend checking out wineries on the North Fork. A vision book workshop in NYC. A raft of new hikes. My son featured as one of summer’s sexiest singles in Time Out NY (more on that later.) But it wasn’t until Jim and I spent a four-day weekend in Vermont that I finally felt the weight of not blogging. And—simultaneously—asked myself why it matters so much.

It was a wonderful trip, a classic Donna-and-Jim adventure that included a rainy drive along Route 100, a visit with Janet at Tao of Health, and two gorgeous days of hiking (and eating too much) in Killington. Seeing Janet and introducing Jim to the retreat center was a high point, for sure. And the reason we planned the trip in the first place. She’s selling lots of stuff in preparation for moving, and it turns out she was willing to let go of that happy little Buddha that came to symbolize my experiences there. So I went to pick him up—and Jim came to do the heavy lifting. The other high point (literally) was the hiking. Our trek up Killington Mountain was one for the books. We’d intended to take the gondola up and hike down, but the young guy selling tickets shamed us into the reverse order (he had me at, “It’s easier on the knees.”) The views were breathtaking, the climb strenuous—and I’d be lying if I said we didn’t curse that dude. More than once. But the hike to Deer Leap the day before was the one that got me thinking about the blogging thing. We crossed paths with Billy, a bearded through-hiker (that’s trail-speak for people hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail) who was either desperate for company or annoyingly long-winded. About an hour later we passed a guy who had also encountered Billy on the trail. “He seemed harmless enough,” the guy offered. When we alluded to the chattiness, he smiled and shrugged. “Well he did like to talk, but mostly about a whole lot of nothin’ real important.”

I rolled that phrase over and over in my mind, and by the time we got back to our car I’d come to this conclusion: That’s what blogging is. Going on and on about a whole lot of nothin’ real important.

Yet here I am. Climbing back in the saddle with renewed intention. Why? Because, like long-winded Billy, I just enjoy the process. Because it’s a creative medium that works for me sometimes, and sometimes not so much. I sure don’t want to feel obligated to do it—or guilty when I don’t. I just want the freedom to explore it. And I love knowing that people I care about are along for the ride.