Monday, September 27, 2010

Dealing with my obsession... (Faux Meat Dilemma)

No fun and games tonight, I'm having a somewhat of a dilemma. My friend Michelle asked me a few weeks ago what the point of the fake meat was. I cant recall what she said exactly, but it was basically; "Why go to the trouble of finding a chicken alternative, when you can just eat chicken?". Ok, I didn't debate her on the chicken industry, but I saw something deeper in what she was telling me. I've heard the; "humans are designed to eat meat" and "humans are designed NOT to eat meat" arguments. I've even heard the "god put animals on the planet to grace our tables" argument. (I think that last one is a bit of a stretch), But the point was there. You don't make it to the top of the food chain by nibbling on carrots. So are we or are we not suppose to eat meat? (Don't answer that,)

Another good friend, who is also a customer of mine is a very responsible carnivore. My friend Troy knows where all of his food comes from. He visits the farm he gets his pork, beef, chickens. He pays about $4 a dozen for his eggs, but he claims they are the best you've ever had, and he says the chickens get manicures and saunas (I made up that last part). He drives 45 minutes to get milk from one particular farm. And he is sickened by the state of commercial animal farming in this country, but he hasn't given up any of this food. He has taken a responsible look at what he buys and eats. He probably eats less processed food that I do, and I am out searching for the best fake chicken. Who is closer on the path of righteousness?

Maybe I'm being a little dramatic, but am I just trying to fool myself into thinking I'm still eating meat? Is this helping or hurting me in the long haul? I have to wonder.

I'm back in Milwaukee this week, and I went to another local veg place. This place is called Bombay Sweets (Note, this website is obnoxious as hell, dont let that dissuade you). The food was awesome indeed, but I was really struggling with the lady there to get my order right. I spent about 15 or 20 minutes going over the menu, I asked a number of questions, and had her confirm everything I said,.. no butter, no ghee, no paneer, cheese, VEGAN!. She must have serviced a half dozen others, and kept coming back to me. Finally we settled on some food, and I took it to go. I've never been so adamant to get my order right.

How are these two things related?  Lets just say I'm still struggling with this, and I have not lost the craving for my old foods. I was thinking about fried chicken and ribs this weekend. Am I so addicted, that I need to get away from those foods, and anything similar? Is eating fake chicken or faux-b-q keeping my head in the clouds?  Perhaps tonight I was overcompensating by being a royal pain in the ass at dinner? (the lady there was a sweetheart, and I tipped her handsomely, btw) I dont know, and I'm searching for the answer. I dont want to believe I have to give up yet another part of my diet. Another dilemma, create additional stress to get over my meat/dairy/eggs obsession, or stay closer to that addiction by fooling myself with bbg seitan and other similar products.

No answers,... just questions. I think work is getting to me a bit now, adding to my stress, which exacerbates this situation. As cool as Milwaukee is, I am looking forward to wrapping this up next week, and getting home for a while. Maybe that is the ticket.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I Vanquish Thee..........

Pizza, plain and simple.  Its America's food (sorry Italia), and its has always been in my top foods.  I have always been a lover of good food, from complex to simple.  I love exotic creations, Asian, Italian, French,.. but I also appreciate the American top 3 (IMHO); hot dogs on the grill in summer, a cheeseburger,... or a slice of yummy 'zza.  "Not Dogs", however, are really "Not" the same (unless you Chicago style them, which is basically the only way I eat them now).  Garden burgers, Lentil, Mushroom, etc are good in their own right, but they just aren't the right... That leaves Pizza.  What to do about that?

Well we have been working on that for 6 months now (by "we", I mean "my wife").  I've had some good ones on the outside I must comment on.  Most notably, ClassicSlice and Marchese's, both in Milwaukee, and this one (in glorious Northside, Cincinnati) is close to the house, but still untapped for me; "North Slice".  As for homemade though, its still leaving something to be desired.  I admit, I jumped on the Daiya bandwagon for a while, but I recently hopped off.  Yeah yeah, it melts good,.. but then so does plastic.  Ok, thats harsh, its not that bad, but I'm a "noob vegan", and I still remember cheese.  Perhaps if you have never had it, or cant remember, then perhaps you find the fakes good.  Unfortunately, I do not.  A few weeks back however, I was at Marchese's Olive Pit in Milwaukee (a block from the rok), and they have a single vegan pizza on their menu, which, however, is somewhat outstanding.  Now the kalamata olives dominate the flavor, but they use "Follow Your Heart" vegan cheese, which was in fact the deal maker for me.

So here we have it,... our finest vegan 'zza creation top date, and I admit, we even cheaped out on a few items, not knowing how it would come out.  The crust was simple, frozen bread dough, the sauce came from a jar (oh marone, are you kidding me?), caramelized onions and garlic, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, Field Roast Italian Sausage (yeah baby, FR, you heard that right), and FYH mozz.  Awesome. So much so, I had to take a picture of the last piece, and write a blog entry just in honor of that pizza.

One kid was converted in the process (The free loving, free spirited one).  My "intellectual" son is going to be a tough nut to crack though. He still debates me on the logic of faux meats and cheeses,... and to be honest, I'm struggling with that as well.  Are they holding me back? or helping me forward? Hmmm,.. subject for another time....  One day at a time.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Vegan for a day!

No not me, I've now been vegan for many days.  Almost 6 months worth of days at this point. But I'm here to talk about my brother and sister.  My family is somewhat spread out.  There aren't many of us, and we also don't live that close to each other.  Fortunately (depending on your perspective), my work has taken me to Milwaukee for the last 6 weeks, and for the next few as well.  My brother and sister live in Madison (which I will be blogging about next week, as I'm sure I can find a vegan place there).  Last night, they decided to make the trek to awesome @Bay_View.  We went to one of my favorite places, @PalominoBar.  Suffice it to say, I dont get to see them very often, so it was quite a treat to hang with my brother and sister. Now before I get all blubbery, this blog is not about that, so wait for the Xmas card to hear me gush.

First, big props to my sis, who didn't forget what my all time favorite football club is.  And if you think you know me, then you know damn well that I am a die hard fanatic of the one an only, Tottenham Hotspur.  She brought me a hat, knowing full well, that Cincinnati was short of Hotspur merchandise.  Come on Cincy! (@numberonehotspurobsessedinthenati)

I thought the evening could not have started out better, as my sister proceeded to "serve" my brother legal papers.  I wont go into any more details than that, again, this blog is about me, and I wont have them steal my thunder.  (I only mention that because of I do a little amateur lawyering on the side. Its kind of a side hobby)  But never-the-less, when you see your brother and sister for the first time in a year, your brother gets served (by your sister), before the first pint is drained, you know its going to be a good night. (Chill the Jaeger)

Lets get to dinner.  First off, this place is good old fashioned southern fried goodness.  Its not, (nor are any of these place in Milwaukee) entirely vegan, but they have a variety of nice options.  One of my favorites are the Toffalo (got the spelling right this time) wings, which are a combination of either seitan, or soy, battered, deep fried, and covered in hot sauce.  They make a yummy vegan ranch, and this dish is big enough to feed a rather large family of eastern european immigrants.  Or any immigrants for that matter.  I don't think eastern europeans are any more or less partial to vegan buffalo wing like food stuffs.  My brother and sister were good sports.  Dining with non-vegans (I was one not that long ago, but I dont judge) is the norm for me.  When I go out to work when on the road, I'm used to getting a salad and a potato, and my coworker asks for a large platter of puppies and kittens, or something similar.... Lets just say I'm a good ex-carnivore.

So I figured these two would dine as they probably normally do, but they decided to go all in, and go vegan for the evening.  My brother went as far as to inquire about how the fries were cooked.  Kind of defeats the purpose if you have deep fried tofu, only to find out it was cooked in animal fat (puppies and kittens no doubt)... but of course, the Palomino maintains a vegan fryer (they are awesome)... So to make a long story short, we ate like vegan kings and queens.  This place will not let you leave hungry (or sober for that matter.... just kidding dad, we drank sweet tea).  We were stuffed, and all kidding aside, it was awesome to see them.  It was pretty cool that they went vegan for the night, (not that it was remotely healthy mind you),... but we can rest assured that no animals were killed in the making of our evening.  Makes it all the better!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Game-changer..... Vegan Reuben

Yeah, you heard that right gamechanger.  No other way to put it  Not unlike when 40 years ago a little known hillbilly was brought to Pittsburgh to take on the role of Quarterback.  Ok, I may be blowing this sandwich a bit out of proportion with that one.  Again, I have to give props to @milwaukeevegan for suggesting that @thecometcafe on the "Lower East Side" (catchy name) has the "Best Vegan Reuben".  At this time it really didn't register, because I am still having canivorian "meat" dreams, and Vegan and Reuben together didn't seem to register. I always liked reubens, I never loved them, but it was one of my goto sandwich's.

I admit, I don't have dreams specifically about reubens, but I do have the occasional dream that I am begin chased by large sausages.  I guess I need to lobby the Brewers to include a Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage be added to that lineup.  I digress, but Field Roast has a lot to do with it.  As I mentioned on an earlier blog about where I learned about this wonderful company, I even mentioned the reuben by name.  I had my first at @thecometcafe, and I never looked back.

On getting home, we made a bee-line (no offense) to the nearest Whole Foods, which incidentally is the only one in Greater Cincinnati.  I found the Field Roast area, and bought one of each thing they had.  (And yes, the sausage was the Pizza game-changer, but the I still classify the reuben as the definitive overall game-changer).  I picked up a few other essentials, and that evening I was making my first batch.  Nice Organic Rye (Organic is a given anymore.  Although I think more often than not, its a scam to suck more of your hard earned pay, I'm trying not to let my cynicism rule my day), sauerkraut, various condiments to try and duplicate the Thousand Islands dressing, and some Daiya cheese, to sprinkle on top.  Now contrary to most people, I'm not completely sold on Daiya.  Yes it melts good, but its not my favorite.  I guess I still remember what cheese tastes like, so this stuff is far removed.  Besides, buying a cheese because it melts good seems to be the wrong reason.  When I got a steak, it wasn't because I liked the color of it.

Getting out the skillet, Earth Balancing my bread.  (It seems wrong to say "Buttering" now), assembling my new creations, and using my family as the test kitchen.  I say family, but in reality my kids still thing Vegan, or Veganism is some sort of disease.  My son desperately thinks I'm going to be in some health trouble because I dont drink Milk.  Yes, I'm learning that the marketing campaign does affect the young pretty good as well.  Not to mention some of my closer friends, now worried about my Soy intake, as some study, or studies, no doubt funded by the Dairy Farmers of America, said too much Soy will cause health problems.  Well my answer to that is; "too much milk will turn you into a Cow".  Hard to argue with that one.  It is infact what it was designed to do......

Back to the kitchen, and my testers.  Lets just say, that this lovely golden brown delicacy was heavan in my mouth, and I proceeded to make them every day for the rest of that week. (thats not actually my sandwich in the picture, it just looked pretty good)  At one point in my endeavor I had thought I lost the almighty sandwich forever, but with one relatively simple creation, I became once again inspired. Over the next few weeks, I've made several variations, some grilled, some not, sometimes sauerkraut, sometimes cole slaw, but at the core, I still have go back to Field Roast for making it all possible.

So "game-changer" may be a bit strong, but its these little strategic battles that I win, make me think I can get through this.  Now, tackling the Jimmy Johns "Italian Night Club", is another story entirely.  I think some things cannot be redone.  For now, thank you Reuben!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sometimes its all about "What could have been"

You know that feeling when you are out of town, far from home, going out to dinner after work.  You are having a few drinks, ordering some nice food, and then out of nowhere comes this drop dead bombshell sauntering up to you, giving you a sly inviting smile.  You are just minding your own business, but you have to admit, you are looking rather sharp that day, nice crisp shirt, shoes with a fresh shine, and in this light, your gray hair isn't really showing though.  You are minding your own business, and she sits down next to you, pulls out a cigarette, asks you for a light, then slips you her number.  Pushing up your Prada frames, you glance at the note, and then proceed to roll your 18kt white gold band around your wedding finger and politely respond.  "Thanks, but I am spoken for".  She smiles, walks off, and you feel good,.. no you feel damn good.  You still have it, but you also know, you have it pretty damn good.  You have a fine wife, great kids, nice house, a decent job,.. well a good job at least.  You know that feeling?  

Now, I have absolutely no clue what it is like for that woman to walk up.  That was total fiction.  For me, I'm more likely to have a homeless guy approach me and ask for a bite of my sandwich (don't laugh, it happened).  My point is, you are presented with a tempting situation, and you are happy and proud of yourself that you never waver, and sail right through it... like Lindsey Lohan through rehab (bad analogy, but it was really the first thing that came to mind).  Everything seems to shine brighter, and smell fresher.  Ok, I've taken it a bit far, but this was my evening...........

Leaving my office about 6:30 tonight, I decide all of the vegan fare that I have discovered in this town, has left me feeling pretty good, but still, I'm feeling a little reckless tonight, and I'm looking for some action.  You know what I'm talking about.... I'm looking for some raw fish.  Yeah, thats it.  My weakness, my vice, my one splurge that I have somehow justified in all of this.  I haven't had it in a while, but tonight its on my mind.  I find a rather upscale part of downtown Milwaukee.  Not sure what it is called, but its coincidentally around Wisconsin and Milwaukee.  I kid you not, thats the intersection (I'll have to see if there is a corner of Ohio and Cincinnati when I get home).  There are two Japanese places side by side, I choose the one with a nice looking Sushi bar.  This place is aptly named Sake-Tumi.    

So I pull up to the bar, strike up a conversation with a very non-Japanese looking fellow behind the bank of slaughtered sea creatures.  Now, in the past, this had raised red flags for me.  Note that I have spent a lot of time overseas, particularly in Japan, and I have come to find that if the guy slicing your fish is not speaking to you in broken Jinglish, beware of what you get.  I digress, and that is the old me anyway.  I start out smartly with some vegetable Gyoza, and some Edamame, then I get right to it....  "Do you have Toro?" and I'm not talking the kind your dad made you push across the lawn on a Saturday  I'm talking fatty marbled raw maguro.  And they have it.  And I don't care about the Market Price on the menu (Ok, work is paying for it), I'm thinking that Toro is for dinner tonight.... But before I order, I think long and hard about what I have accomplished thus far, and what I am trying to accomplish as I go forward.  I know that a little bit of fish isn't going to change the world, but I begin to think better of what I am doing, and why I came in here... and what I am about to do.  

I announce to "Eric-san", my sushi chef, that I am a strict vegetarian.  Not about to lose a promising tip, Eric commences to put together three fine Maki rolls for me, using shitake mushrooms, pickled veggies, tofu, seaweed, avocado, cucumber.  Finishing this meal off with a nice large Asahi Super Dry, and I am feeling pretty good.  I had a decent meal, found a new restaurant, and didnt compromise myself in the process (I didn't, right?).

Ok, don't drill to deep into this, I already know.  Chances are good my Agedashi Tofu was deep fried in a whale oil, in a kettle sitting atop a flame fueled by the burning carcases of dolphins.  Ok, maybe I exaggerate a wee bit.  And yes, I am well aware of what Age-dashi is made of, but I will admit that it hit me halfway back to the hotel that Agedashi Tofu was made with Dashi. That should not have been that hard to figure out.  Like a Ham sandwich, may contain "Ham".  My bad.  

You see my point I hope. Its more than just a meal that turned a corner.  It is a corner for me as well.  I admit, I'm not perfect, and I have my moments of relapse, but hey, I am trying.  I went out tonight with debauchery on my mind, and I chose a better path.  I'm trying to do the right thing for myself and my family.  I'm trying to live a kind life, and separate myself from the death that is the part of so many of our lives.  I'll think about that one tonight.  Why does my dinner require the death of some creature?  I dont think it does.  Well at least tonight it didn't.  I need to take this one day at time......................

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Milwaukee??? Who Knew???

Over the past month, I have been travelling weekly to Milwaukee.  As you can see, I have not been very successful with travelling, so I was not really looking forward to a 12 week assignment out of town.  Its hard enough finding food to eat in the house (although I admit, its been a while since I made a PB&J.  I posted a note on my Grateful Dead twitter (@gratefulday)... (I run a Grateful Dead streaming audio site in my spare time, but that's a discussion for another blog)... that I was going to be travelling to Milwaukee, and out of nowhere @milwaukeevegan shows up with a few good ideas.  One thing lead to another, and before I knew it, I was sitting in a nice local bar called the Palomino, enjoying some southern fried vegan food.  Lets just forget about health food here, this was not the stuff.  I'm not saying the whole menu was like that, but I zeroed in on the "Tuffalo (sic) wings"  (I've loved wings in my former life, and I continue to be on a quest for a vegan replacement).  Suffice it to say, the Palomino was my first of many such adventures in Milwaukee.  Hey, I may lose my crabbiness after this trip.

I took the liberty of creating a little map to help guide me around town for my stay.  I tagged all of the places that have Vegan friendly on the menu.  I'm sure I'll talk more about them over the next month.  I'll be flying back weekly.

View Milwaukee Vegan Restaurants in a larger map

Two other notable standouts have to be Honeypie and The Comet Cafe.  As it turned out, these two and the Palomino are owned by the same folks.  Clearly they are doing something right, as there vegan options are great.  Honeypie makes a vegan "Porkslaw" sandwich that tastes dangerously familiar, and the Comet truly has the best Reuben I have ever had, vegan or not.

I also learned about something else at these places that may very well change the course of this veganification transformation I am going through.  Two simple words could have the power to grant me safe passage through the troubled waters. (Actually, I created these troubled waters, so I hope it doesn't sound like I'm playing the martyr).  

Two simple words can help right my course, and help lift the fog (how about this drama)..... "Field Roast".  Yes, you heard that right.  I thought it was just some vegan term that I should have known, so when I first heard it at Honeypie, I said "Oh yeah, Field Roast", like I knew what I was talking about. I'm new to the club, so I'm not sure what rules, or definitions I'm supposed to know.  On some respects I was a little disappointed that my meal was not a completely unique creation from some master vegan chef, but then I got over that in a hurry when I realized I might actually be able to buy this stuff myself.  The little lightbulb went off, and that weekend you can best believe, we were heading across town to the Whole Foods.

OK, I have digressed quite a bit from the top of this entry.  I think I made my point about Milwaukee, much more than I had hoped for, and it has done much for my crabbiness.  I cant do my whole adventure justice, so I leave some more of the details for later blogs.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Indian Summer! (another cheat, I feel so dirty)

In the past few months, I have grown quite find of Indian cuisine. Actually in the several months prior to veganizing, I discovered that I truly loved Englands national dish (Chicken Tikka Masala?).  At least that is what I heard it was.  There is a particularly lovely Indian place in Cincinnati called Ambar India.  I started going there mostly because one of my new friends (the lady that sold me my house) was fond of Indian cuisine, and we went out to lunch quite a bit.  I figured I would go along and see what it was all about.  It didn't take me long to fall in love with the menu.  I even turned a few others on to this place as well, so there has never been a shortage of reasons to visit.

However, since my veganification (its my new word), I omitted the obvious offending dishes.  Anything with meat or cheese was clearly off limits, but I really tried hard to ignore the wonderfully buttery sauces that accompanied most of the dishes.  OK, I tried, but barely (meaning I didn't really try).  I asked them about any vegan friendly dishes, and the waiter kindly shook his head and said, "no".  I didn't press on much, I just tried to order responsibly, and let the naan fall where they may.

I'll admit, I've never been one to discuss the ingredients, or preparation techniques with waiters or waitresses, so I'm not used to having a dialog with them about what goes into the meal.  I know its just something I need to "get over" and deal with, but in my many years of carnivorian bliss, I've been a model customer.  Rarely do I complain, nor do I ever special order. I (almost) always enjoy the meal.  I'm pretty easy, and consider myself "off the rack" with respect to ordering things as they were intended.  I've dined with many colleagues and friends that specified things to the Nth degree, and I always crossed my fingers that the chef didnt accidentally spit on my plate when he/she prepared the meal.  Needless to say, "special ordering" has come new to me, and particularly when I'm with coworkers.  I get enough grief about this, so I try to minimize it when I'm out with them.

Yeah I hear ya, get over it.  Why sacrifice your morales out of laziness, or peer pressure?  I'm with you entirely, and I promise you that I am figuring it out, or trying to.  I will say that when I go back to Ambar, and even if the same big strapping Indian waiter comes back to me, I will try not to cower to peer pressure, and I will clarify that I do not want butter or "ghee".  Thanks to my new twitter friend @isitvegan for help on that one.

More likely, I will go to Vaishali's wonderful blog, and "beg" my wife to make something for dinner.

Monday, September 6, 2010

5th Month of Vegan-ification

I've several blog entries in the works.  I've been travelling quite a bit the last 3 or 4 weeks to lovely Milwaukee, and I have quite a bit to share from there.  I met a great twitter friend @milwaukeevegan that has turned me on to numerous places there, and I will say that I have become a much happier Vegan, and have met a lot of great people while travelling there.  I promise to share the stories, and make more (I'm flying back in the morning).  For now I will enjoy Labor Day with my family in Cleveland where my mother-in-law is cooking a splendid roast, of which I will not be partaking :-)