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(Significantly More Than) One Week

I finally got things together to do the One Week photo thingee that Dianna did a couple of months ago. It didn't quite turn out as well as I'd hoped, but this is what I've got:


Alright, first: I had a problem with the whole one-week time frame. I just had groceries delivered yesterday and I tend to buy all my food for 2-3 weeks at once. At the same time, I didn't want to leave out any of the delicious fruits and vegetables and leafy greens I'd gotten. So I threw everything in there.

Even more pronounced is the grain/legume issue. I resupplied myself with bulk grains and legumes at a health food store a couple of weeks ago. Those will last me multiple months, but I couldn't very well scatter handfulls of chickpeas and bulgur and millet around, so I put the full cannisters/sacks in there. In addition to each individual item being overrepresented, the variety is also overrepresented. I eat all of the grains and beans pictured, but it's unlikely that, in any given week, I'll eat millet and quinoa and rice and bulgur and couscous and barley and chickpeas and lentils and adzuki beans and turtle beans and so on. So, yeah. Grains and beans are grossly overrepresented, moreso than produce.

Packaged goods, on the other hand, I did a more reasonable assessment of. I mean, peanut butter's great, but it's hard to get excited about showing off all of my jars of peanut butter. One serves the purpose just fine.

So with that caveat, I set about arranging the food for the photo. At first I relocated all the food from my kitchen to my living room, to show it off on the coffee table. But there was too much, so I cleaned off the kitchen counter and arranged things there. I carefully took all of the produce out of the plastic bags I store them in and artfully arranged it on the counter. It took about an hour, but by the time I was done everything was perfectly arrayed; it all fit on the counter, you could see everything, and the colors were carefully ballanced. I also arranged the food thematicaly, so pakaged goods were in one area, grains and beans in another. I had areas designated for fruit, root vegetables, cruciferous sprouts, and members of the nightshade family, with leafy greens placed near the front.

Then I got out my camera and it exploded. Not literally, but at this point I'm resigned that it will never work again. It turns on fine, you can review photos taken, but if you try to take a photo it instantly turns off. Changing the batteries didn't help, turning it on and off a bunch didn't help. Apparently something in the photo-taking mechanism has shorted out.

Thus: I had to take this picture with my flash-less, low-resolution cell phone camera. It's washed out and blurry and almost impossible to tell what anything is. And it doesn't have a timer, so I couldn't take a picture with myself in it. Blah.

So, this is (significantly more than) one week of food for me. Using receipts as a baseline and estimating the amount of depreciation, I'd guess that a one-week portion of that food cost me about $50.

On the plus side, the poor quality of the image makes it possible to play a diverting game of "what exactly is in that photo?" in the comments section.

I've just made some delicious, saccharine-sweet chocolate-oatmeal macaroons. Or at least, I think I did. But clearly I can't have; I'm vegan, and therefore am anorexic. And no anorexic would eat a recipe that begins by calling on the cook to melt 1/2 cup of margarine and 1/2 cup soy milk with 2 cups of sugar. Obviously calorie deprivation has gotten to me; what's sitting in my fridge right now must clearly be some sort of zero-calorie rice cake snack. The brown color must come from carob, chocolate's evil twin brother.

In any case, here's the non-recipe for the high(low)-calorie desert I didn't just make:

Chocolate-Oatmeal Macaroons (Zero-Calorie Carob-flavored Rice Cake Snacks)

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup margarine (non-dairy)
1/2 cup soy milk
2 1/2 cups oatmeal
1 cup dried coconut
8 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Start by mixing 2 cups of sugar with 1/2 cup of margarine and 1/2 cup of soy milk in a saucepan.

(a brief aside: I submit that it is impossible for a recipe that begins "Start by mixing 2 cups of sugar with 1/2 cup of margarine and 1/2 cup of soy milk," to turn out badly. Seriously, go to your kitchen and do it now. Then taste the sweet nectar that results. This is a solid foundation on which to build an empire!)

Heat the mixture to boiling, then remove from heat.

Meanwhilst, mix the oatmeal, the coconut, and the cocoa.

When the liquid mixture's off the heat, stir in the vanilla extract. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, stir, and let cool.

Assuming the mixture has cooled before you have eaten it all (not a particularly safe assumption to make), portion it off and put it in the refrigerator. You could put it on a pan like a cookie, I guess, but I found it easier and less messy to spoon it into a muffin pan in 12 roughly-equal portions. Cover it in plastic wrap or something similar to keep it from drying out in the fridge.

Voila! Delicious, high-fat, high-sugar vegan macaroons. Sadly, my calorie deprived mind is only capable of recalling the (clearly imaginary) delicious macaroon recipe, and I can't think of the actual recipe I must have used to make the rice cakes I no doubt made. You'll have to look elsewhere for a recipe for Zero-Calorie Carob-flavored Rice Cake Snacks.

I haven't posted pictures of what I've been cooking for myself lately, so I figured I would indulge my urge to share my creations. Last night I threw together a dish that I will call, for lack of a better term, Something Carribo-South Americanianish.

2 cups rice
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
Several drops Louisiana hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 small yellow onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
2 chayotes, cut into cubes
2 ripe plantains, sliced
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon Louisiana hot sauce
Coarse salt to taste

Please note that none of the above measurements are precise; they are merely post-hoc estimates of how much I used. Adjust any of the proportions to suit your taste.

This meal originated because I had some plantains. I haven't worked much with plantains and unfortunately most of the recipes I found online involved deep frying them. Deep frying is sort of an ordeal, so I found a recipe for sauteed plantains and used that as a guide to make my own recipe. I also had some chayotes in the fridge, which are a Central and South American vegetable that look sort of like a pear with a butt. They taste not unlike zucchini or summer squash when cooked, but are a bit tougher so you don't have to worry as much about overcooking and getting a soggy zucchini mess. I decided to make something vaguely Cuban and South American. Fusion, if you will.

I started by making rice. I'm lazy, so I just threw two cups of rice and a cup of water into the rice cooker, along with some salt, a dash of chili powder and a few drops of hot sauce. Then I sliced up an onion, heated some peanut oil over medium heat, and commenced sauteeing. After a couple of minutes I added the garlic, and a minute later the cubed chayote. I let that cook, stirring, for about five minutes before adding the plantains. After a further ten minutes sauteeing, around when the plantains started to get golden-brown, I sprinkled on some brown sugar, a little cinnamon, some chili powder, some cayenne, a dash of white pepper, and some coarse salt. Finally, I poured in about a tablespoon of hot sauce, which deglazed the pan nicely. I cooked a minute more, turned off the heat, and voila! Something Carribo-South Americanianish! Serve over the rice.

Note that this is an easily substitutable dish. You can easily use squash in place of chayote, regular salt in place of coarse salt, black pepper in place of white, whatever. I can also think of some interesting additions to the dish; it might taste good with some chopped spicy peppers, maybe a little habanero. Some allspice powder or raisins might also give it a nice Jamaican flavor.

Also, note that I don't want to pretend that this is in any way an authentic Cuban, South American, or any other cuisine's dish. It's just something I threw together from ingredients from those regions and flavored with spices I'm familiar with from the area.

Dearest Omnivores


While I greatly appreciate your concern for my health and well-being, I do not actually have any pressing need for your nutritional advice. When, for example, we are dining at a steakhouse as part of a (mandatory) firm event, and I surreptitiously ask the waiter if it would be possible to get a meat-free, dairy-free meal, it is not my subtle way of asking you to give me a lecture on the importance of protein in a healthy diet and the inability of the human body to absorb iron not contained in red meat.

Since we are on the subject, while I appreciate your love of red meat, could we, perhaps, have a lunch outing that isn't at a steakhouse? And while prix fixe menus are the height of haute couture, could we perhaps get a prix fixe menu that includes at least a vegetarian option, to say nothing of a vegan option? This is not to complain, mind you. I love that this summer has given me the opportunity to go to New York's fanciest, trendiest, priciest dining hot spots and order the not-on-the-menu plate of grilled vegetables. I have now eaten half a dozen of the finest plates of grilled vegetables that New York City's steakhouses have to offer. But, I don't know, how about some Lebanese? Or Indian? Or, if you're feeling really daring, Ethiopian?

I know we can work out our differences. All I ask is a little understanding and to not have to eat at another fucking steakhouse next week.

Z. Alexander Slorpe, Esquire.

Leaves of Grass

I love my job, but I wish they would stop buying me food.

As you know, Bob, I am a vegan. That means no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no animal products at all. But that doesn't mean I'm picky! I have adopted a fairly lax set of rules for eating out, particularly when I'm eating with others. I don't eat obviously meaty/dairy-y food, but I don't grill the waiter for an ingredient list when I order. If something generally has stealth-dairy or meat (like onion rings or baked beans, respectively) I'll ask before ordering, but usually I'll just be casual about it. I've probably eaten more than a few restaurant meals with butter or cheese in them by accident since I became a vegan, but on the whole I think I do a good job. And if I order something and it comes with some surprise dairy item (for example, a plate of pasta that the chef decides to sprinkle with an unadvertised dollop of parmesan cheese) I take a can't-unshit-the-bed attitude and just eat it. I'll remember in the future to specify no cheese, but my sending it back won't decrease the restaurant's net cheese usage. My feelings would be different with unadvertised meat, but that's a different kettle of fish, if you'll pardon the expression.

So I'm about as accommodating when eating out as a vegan can be, and I generally don't make a big deal out of things. The problem with this accommodation, though, is that it makes it easy for the omnivores I work with to ignore my diet in selecting restaurants.

Thus: two weeks ago I had a choice of two restaurants for lunch: Just Chicken, the restaurant that serves chicken and nothing else, or Maria's Cuban restaurant. Now, Cubans are a fine people and I have nothing against them, but their cuisine, at least as instantiated in Americanized Cuban restaurants in New York City, is not particularly Vegan friendly. I had a choice of ten chicken dishes, five pork dishes, two goat dishes, and an ox dish. Among the appetizers there were three chicken dishes and two pork dishes. Sides were similarly meaty.

I eventually found the three plausibly non-meat dishes on the menu, rice and beans, fried plantains (green) and fried plantains (sweet). I'd say there's a greater-than-even chance the beans were cooked in some sort of animal fat and the plantains had whey in them, but I did what I could.

Last week some other interns and I worked late three nights in a row, and our attorney bought us dinner each night. Which, I hasten to add, was very nice of her. The trouble, for me, was that the first two nights we got food from a Vietnamese place with one non-meat dish, the third night from a dinner which had a few veganable items, provided you were willing to order a chef salad, hold the cheese, hold the eggs, hold the bacon, hold the chicken, hold the dressing. Which got you chopped lettuce and some cherry tomatoes.

What annoyed me most, though, was that my attorney started making snarkastic comments about how long it took me to find something to eat. Things to the effect of, "I realize this is the most important decision ever for you, but could you hurry it up?" I was tired and hungry at that point and barely kept myself from snapping "Well, it takes a while to search a two-hundred item menu for the one item that doesn't have meat in it."

Relatedly, for anyone who finds themself in this position in the future: Yes, I realize that your meat item tastes good, and yes, I am sure that I would not like a taste. While there are undoubtedly vegans out there who don't eat meat or dairy because they detest the way that meat and dairy tastes, similar to the way that I don't like onions, I am not one of those vegans. The fact that your chicken is very tasty is an utter non sequitur when levelled as an argument against the reasons I will not eat it. So, if in the future you feel a desire to ask whether I would like to try your chicken, even if just one bite, pretend that you have already asked the question and I have already replied "No, thank you."

I wish I had a vegan cupcake right now

Nothing Satisfies Like Baby Cow Tummies

According to the BBC, the Masterfoods company, maker of the Snickers, Milky Way, Mars, and Twix candy bars, among others, has begun using rennet in their milk chocolate products. For those who don't know, rennet is an enzyme found in the mucus of mammal stomachs. It allows mammals to digest milk. One upshot of rennet is that, if you extract it from a mammal's stomach and add it to milk, it'll cause the milk to curdle. Rennet is a fairly common element in the cheese-making process, and is more generally used to create whey, which you often find in snack foods.

The trouble is the part where it comes from mammal stomachs. Whey-making rennet comes from cow tummies. Baby cow tummies. The operation to extract the rennet from the cow tummy does not leave the cow in any sort of shape to continue with the whole living thing. This makes rennet, and products that contain it, not generally suitable for vegetarians. You can curdle milk using non-animal rennet, but it's somewhat more expensive. I don't think it's too much more expensive, given the reasonable availability of non-rennet cheeses and whey products, but I am not an expert.

So: Now a wide variety of Masterfoods candy products are no longer suitable for vegetarians. This is annoying.

What irks me most about the article is the part where the Masterfoods spokesman defends the switch to animal rennet as a "principled decision." I would be interested to hear exactly which principle it was that motivated Masterfoods to turn products that did not require the killing of animals into products that did require it. While "wishing to maximize our profit margins," is, technically, a principle, to use it as Masterfoods does here does violence to what is commonly understood by the term "principled decision." If a company is going to make a decision based on hard fiscal calculations, I would rather they just come out and say it. "We conducted a study and determined that the cost savings from switching to animal rennet outweigh the expected loss in sales of candy bars to vegetarians, so we decided to make the switch," at least has the virtue of being forthright. Instead, they went with, "after many nights spent tossing and turning, we have finally slain our demons and stand before you now to say 'For too long our candy bars have contained a repugnant lack of baby cow tummies! This must not be!'"

Having now voiced my opposition to this move, I must now confront the fact that annoyed bleatings on the internet are the only way I can punish the company. Since I'm a vegan, the "milk" part of their milk chocolate products has kept me away from them already. I can't spend any less than I'm already not spending on their products. I could write an angry letter, though:

"Dear Sirs,

I find your decision to include animal rennet in your products morally repugnant. I already found your decision to include milk in your products morally repugnant, but this is altogether moreso. I will continue to not buy your products just as though you had not made this decision, but now my non-purchases shall be conducted with greater gusto, perhaps accompanied by a sad shaking of the head and a clucking of the tongue.

Yours sincerely,
Z. Alexander Slorpe, Esquire."

De Gustibus

I have a question for anyone out there who might be a photographer:

How do I make pictures of food not look bad?

You may have noticed that I have this sort of ongoing thing with posting picture of dinners I have made of which I am particularly proud. Generally speaking, these dinners look quite tasty on my plate, which is what causes me to say, "Why, this is the sort of thing I should take a picture of and share with the internet!" And then I take a picture and it looks like this:

That was my dinner last night, eggplant and artichoke alla napoletana with sundried tomato pesto. Part of it seems like it's the flash's fault. The bright light makes otherwise-normal food look irridescent. The trouble is that I can't really get enough natural light in my room to take pictures without a flash, as can be seen here:

And that's with overhead lights, my desklamp, and a small spotlight trained on the food. Maybe it would help if I had white light instead of yellow. Also, confessedly, the food could be more artfully arranged than it is, and the sauce is an unfortunate mixture of green and red that, while tasty, is not quite photogenic.

Any suggestions on how to stage a food shot so that it doesn't look gross?

Revolution Has Been Done!

Tonight's dinner: Revolutionay Spanish Omelet with Roasted Red Pepper-Almond Sauce!


And for desert: Banana Muffins, recipe courtesy of Dianna


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