Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Presidential Turkey Pardon

I've had a full week of trying to keep up with my day job, attending to relatives, and volunteering.  This is more a mini-rantlet than a full blown post.  Happy Thanksgiving!

You know, I think even if I ate meat, I'd find the Presidential Turkey Pardon a bit sick.  I mean, by its very nature, it acknowledges turkeys as condemned, and what have they done?  Nothing.  Abe Lincoln pardoned Union deserters in the Civil War.  He called them his "legs cases", and opined that if the Almighty God gave a man frightened legs there was nothing to stop his running away on them.*

Now that's sweet and a bit folksy.  The Turkey Pardon?  A show trial by comparison.

*Sarah Vowell -- Assassination Vacation 

Thursday, November 18, 2010


    Freedom From Want (1943) -- Norman Rockwell
 part of  his series on the Four Freedoms
                                     Not a lot of people partook in a real life scene like this in 1943.


“We were the first in doing good to the English and the English the first in doing wrong.”
— Metacom/King Phillip (Wampanoag)
I like Thanksgiving.  But I feel kind of weird about it.  I enjoy the fact that it's a relatively low key holiday that involves eating spaghetti with squash-and-pesto-sauce (recipe below), stuffed peppers (recipe below), and exploded apples (recipe also below) and getting to see my relatives, but not much else. The vegetarian me is turned off by the sudden surplus of visions of anthropomorphic turkeys just dying to be eaten.  The historian in me just can't stop thinking about smallpox, or about how "Days of Thanksgiving" were common in 17th century England, however they were companions to "Days of Humiliation and Mourning."   We kept the fun part.  Whatever happened to the latter? I mean, okay, there's some helping out at homeless shelters and charities, but on the whole, it seems to be just a runup to more Christmas partying.  I think the nation could use a good day of voluntary humiliation and mourning once in awhile.  Hopefully, it would give us some perspective.  

Thanksgiving: Girl Praying (1943) -- Norman Rockwell
The less popular Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting, possibly because it's something of a downer. 

I haven't even started talking about how Thanksgiving is often used to gloss over some of the less savory chapters of our national history, like, oh, our systematic near-extermination of several entire civilizations.

                                                      Courtesy of

But this is a food blog, you say?  Well, the personal is often political.  Especially when the blog is about vegetarian food.  There isn't that big a step from writing about Thanksgiving to writing about the politics of food to a broader discussion of all the topics (genocide, representation, environmentalism, the myth of American exceptionalism) brought up by writing about Thanksgiving and the politics of food.  

Spaghetti with Squash Sauce

1 medium butternut squash, baked at 425 until brown and soft
2 tablespoons pesto sauce 
(I like Classico, but you can use whatever -- the original recipe called for fresh garlic and basil but I can't afford that this week, however I always have a jar of pesto around) 
salt and pepper to taste
3 pinches nutmeg
3 cups water

1 package of spaghetti

Combine ingredients in spaghetti pot, cook for three hours until mixture turns from orange to golden brown, let sit another hour.  Boil the spaghetti according to the directions on the package.  Pour sauce over the spaghetti and serve while still hot. 

Stuffed Peppers

5 large Cubanelle peppers
4 eggs
1 large package of onion and sage stuffing
2 cups milk
1/4th cup cilantro or parsley 
1/4th cup Romano cheese
pepper, curry powder, and salt to taste

Combine onion and sage stuffing, cheese, eggs, milk, and spices (cilantro et al) in large mixing bowl.  Wash hands carefully and mix mixture by hand.  (Keep some paper towels nearby so you don't contaminate the entire kitchen with egg.) Wash your hands carefully again.  Clean and deseed the Cubanelles, then cut them in half legnthwise and stuff them with the stuffing mixture.  Place them on a cookie sheet and bake them in the oven for an hour.  

Exploded Apples 

Core two apples all the way through and stuff the inside with raisins, cinnamon, and maple syrup.  Put in microwave safe bowl, put the bowl in a microwave, cover with a paper towel, and cook on high for 2-3 minutes.  They won't blow up over the whole microwave, but they will puff up and ooze quite satisfyingly. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Traveling Vegetarian

"My son was a vegetarian before he went to Morocco, and found that being a vegetarian was really difficult there.  He isn't a vegetarian anymore."

"What's the polite way to survive through a meat eater's wedding?"

"I'd like to be a vegetarian, but the food's too expensive."

Don't scoff--after thirteen years of traveling as a vegetarian, I have learned the following:

1.  If you're going somewhere and you're not sure there's going to be anything you can eat, either eat a bowl of cereal before you leave or take something that can be stuffed in a purse or otherwise covertly consumed.  (Granola bars are the vegetarian's best friend, especially at weddings and other functions where the set menu might not have a vegetarian option.)

2.  If you're traveling to another city / country, do some ground research before you go. If you're a relatively mainstream vegetarian, travel books and Zagat are good sources to consult.  (Zagat recommends some surprisingly inexpensive places sometimes, although you do have to do your homework and double check prices if you're on a budget.)  Of general interest travel books, I find that Rough Guide usually has the best food guide when it comes to trying to find vegetarian friendly places to eat.  If your vegetarianism is more of a general lifestyle than a diet, there are vegetarian resource groups that can help you find either a good place for lunch, a  vegetarian cafe in an occult bookshop, or the best vegan ashram in the state.  It's all good.

3.  Bagels, bagels, bagels. I'm not a huge fan of chain stores, but honestly, if I had become a vegetarian before places like Dunkin' Donuts had started serving bagels, I don't know how long I would have stayed vegetarian. Filling, tasty, cheap, good for any meal, they are probably my ideal fast food.  Mmmmm...carbs.

4.  This one is probably very Northeast-urban-US specific, but: pizza slices are also a (lacto)vegetarian's best chance at a quick, inexpensive lunch. An LA equivalent would probably be that corn-on-a-stick guy.

 5.  Delis at such enlightened chain grocery stores such as the awesome Publix (Florida and Georgia), Stop and Shop (New England), Hannaford (Maine, New Hampshire, North and Central Massachusetts),
Shaws (New England)/Albertsons (the rest of the country), Vons (California), Sainsburys (UK), and Tescos (Europe), have vegetarian options and are cheaper than their Trader Joe's/Whole Foods equivalent.
Anti Vegetarian Hall of Shame: Market Basket (Massachusetts/New Hampshire), Ralph's (California).

6. An off the cuff list of vegetarian friendly chain stores: Au Bon Pain (great pumpkin soup and spinach croissants, but expensive), Starbucks (decent vegetarian sandwich options, also kind of expensive), Caffe Nero (UK -- great ploughman's sandwiches), Pret a Manger (UK -- good selection of cold curried veggies, I've never been to the one in Chicago).  Actually, I find British fast food places in general to be a good deal more vegetarian friendly than American ones, although in the five years since I've been back from the UK we've made significant strides in catching up.

7.  Asian food, unless you're in the middle of the absolute boonies, is usually the best type of food to try to find if you would like to eat a big meal.  Due to religious, historical, and socioeconomic issues, much of Asian cuisine is traditionally meatless.  Even in places where it is relatively hard to get meat free food (Nashua, New Hampshire springs to mind), there will usually be a couple of Chinese places offering veggie fried rice or veggie lo mein.

Remember: in vegetarianism as in life, a little preparation now can save you from an empty stomach later.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cafe Asia, New Downtown, Washington DC

Eric and I had a fabulous time at the Rally to Restore Sanity on Saturday, and although my resulting good feelings and faith that the American people don't want our governing bodies to act like partisan jackasses has been completely obliterated* by this afternoon's announcement that the GOP basically doesn't plan on actually trying to govern so much as paralyze the government, I did have a very nice time in DC, and got to eat a very nice post-rally dinner at Cafe Asia, one of the few affordable places  in the area that had managed to stay open after the rally.

Now, full disclosure, I had managed to have an egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast, but the closest to food I got for about eight or nine hours after that was dining on cheesy crackers and Kudos on the National Mall.  Anything would have been manna after that, but I was impressed by the way the food at Cafe Asia managed to take Asian standards (fried tofu with sweet soy sauce, yellow tofu curry, and spicy Malaysian-style noodle), and give them a homestyle quality.  The decor was hip neon and concrete, but the fried Nippon tofu was sweet and fried-doughy enough to comfort the far from home and politics-stressed soul.  The undercurrent of soba in the soy sauce on the tofu whetted the appetite, while the two curries we ordered filled our bellies and warmed us up on a chilly October night.  Eric's curry was a standard vegetable curry, that initially tasted mild and comforting but had a nice gathering burn to the pepper fire.  Mine was done in soup-form, so the taste of the coconut milk was much more noticeable, as was the snap of the pepper fire. (I had to order two beers just to stop my mouth from burning, and I eat spicy food like it's about to be declared illegal.)

We were still a little hungry, so we ordered dessert: fried bananas and ice cream for me and a brownie a la mode for Eric.  I grew up on fried plantains served with claret sauce at Christmas, so the comparatively austere taste of bananas and honey came as a bit of a shock, however the vanilla ice cream more than made up for the comparative lack of sweetness.  I have Eric's word that his brownie was appropriately chocolately, however I didn't get a chance to sample some myself, as I was full to bursting at the time.

After dinner, we walked down the National Mall and back to Union Station, making plans for another trip to Washington DC.  Next time, we'll do the sight seeing we couldn't do last week because we were sharing the Mall with half a million people. And if we have time, we'll also come back to Cafe Asia.  

*Yes, I am a liberal, but my frustration with the election is more motivated by my growing conviction that the two party system is completely detrimental to the sane running of the country, and thus has got to go, than it is with the fact that the Democrats didn't win.