Archive for November, 2009

Restaurant Reviews

Posted in Restaurant Reviews, Vegan and Vegetarian Lifestyle on November 30, 2009 by Verge

So, this is an intro to our restaurant and lounge reviews.  This is no easy, “liked it,”” didn’t like it” kind of review.

Monika and I don’t attend many restaurants.  There are many reasons for this.  I guess, right now, a big part of the reason is that it’s expensive to dine out, especially when it involves a few cocktails, as it always does for us.  But, a huge part of the reason is that dining out as vegetarians, much less vegans, is complicated.

We are often invited out to social occasions to restaurants for dinner.  We try our best to not be difficult, and try our best to let people know not to go out of their way to accommodate our “special” diets.  Monika and I have combined over 25 years of finding things to eat in less-than-accommodating establishments and situations.  Shit, she’s even got more experience than me; even before Mon was a vegetarian, she was and has been Kosher her entire life.

Most times we’re invited to regular, every day, American Cuisine restaurants.  A shot list:  TGI Fridays, Ruby Tuesdsay, Fudruckers, PH Whelihans, Chaamps Americana.  People in South Jersey know them all quite well.  There’s always something we can find on the menu at these places, as any vegan can attest.  It’s usually a salad.

The big problem with eating a salad at a restaurant is a fundamental mindset of American Cuisine!  Specifically, that for a meal to be a meal, it must contain meat.  That argument aside, the more direct problem with ordering a salad at a restaurant is price.  They’re priced with grilled chicken, or grilled tuna, or deep fired, batter dipped chicken chunks, etc.  Great!  $8.99 for a bed of shitty Iceberg lettuce a couple of tomatoes and stale bread crumbs.  Oh, wait a minute, hold the chicken, that’ll save me a couple dollars, right?  Yeah, sure.  The fact that I’ve worked in more than a few kitchens in my life and I know the quality of salads alone is fodder for another blog all together and something we’ll choose to ignore for now.

So, for American Cuisine, for a vegan at least, the holy grail is a solid salad bar.  At least for under ten bucks you can really have a full meal.  All you can eat…yeah, even vegans love the sound of that.   They’ll even add some great stuff at the better restaurants:  sunflower seeds, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, those little mini corn on the cobs!  And, you make your own, which, contrary to my idea being served, makes dinner kind of an arts and crafts for dinner experience!  Oh, and you can actually see the sanitary conditions right in front of you (through a sneeze guard, of course).

You’ve committed to thus blog this far, and I’m not even close to being done, so hang in there.

Okay, so, American Cuisine aside…what else is there?  Well, common enough is the so called “Italian” cuisine.  Don’t get me wrong here, I wouldn’t know real Italian food from fake because I’ve never had it, really.  Being vegan pretty much excludes you from the start on that endeavor.  Nevertheless, it always strikes non-vegetarians as a good compromise to invite their vegetarian friends to an Italian restaurant.

And, to be honest, it is.  But, we have some complaints.  I’m not short on complaints, as you’ll eventually discover.  First, people assume that pasta is a safe bet.  We only eat whole wheat pasta.  Not available at most places.  Okay, regular is not so bad, though nutritionally void.  But, why pay 10 bucks a plate for noodles and red sauce, er, gravy.  We don’t even get meatballs!  Oh, usually, there is eggplant, which is vegetarian, right?  Well, sure, but not vegan since it’s probably batter dipped with eggs or milk and then deep fried, hopefully in something that isn’t animal based.

Beyond that, there are many options for vegetarians and vegans, actually!  Mediterranean, Turkish, Greek, Indian, Moroccan, Chinese, Japanese, Caribbean, Thai, Vietnamese.  It is no wonder to a vegetarian that most of the “international” cuisine doesn’t place meat as the centerpiece.  Most of the time, the traditional meals of the world use whole grains and basic staples because that’s what they can afford.   And, with the use of hundreds of years of tradition, and local herbs and spices, they’ve made things delicious.

It’s great when we go out with friends that want to try the new Vietnamese restaurant.  But, it kind of does suck when we have to go to the regular old crappy salad restaurant.   Too much money, too little choices.

Over the years, I’ve been slowly devising a rating system for restaurants and bars.  It’s not perfect, and will most likely be the subject of many a blog, but I’m open to suggestions.  Because Monika and I go out to eat very seldom, and because I hold such high standards,  I thought that it would be fun to begin to categorize our favorite and least favorite places.

I’ve been turning this one over in my mind for years.  I haven’t even touched upon the fallacies of bars and lounges, but I’ll get to them.  I have high standards, what can I say.  I can’t wait to share my overwhelming scrutiny and obsessive-compulsive mania that is my view of the world.  Monika is along for the ride, in so many ways more than one.

Cranberry Sauce

Posted in Recipes, Vegan and Vegetarian Lifestyle on November 25, 2009 by Verge

Okay, there is no doubt what makes people love canned (actually, jellied) cranberry sauce.  It’s basically the only other ingredient besides cranberries in jellied, canned cranberry sauce:   little lovely ingredient called High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Is it delicious?  Yeah, sometimes it is.  It’s what makes so many things so damn delicious.

Ketchup?  Tomatoes, Vinegar and High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Soda/Cola?  Water, Carbon Dioxide, High Fructose Corn Syrup, and a bit of flavoring that came from a lab, not a tree.

Grape Jelly?  Grapes, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup.

The list is basically endless.  Try to shop for things without High Fructose Corn Syrup one day.  Your shopping trip to the Supermarket just got 3 times longer as you search for the items you’ve learned to love all you life in a healthier and more natural version.

Oh, and this one ingredient can arguably be the single biggest reason for the epidemic of Obesity, Diabetes and Heart Disease that has gripped America in the last 10-20 years.

Sidenote:  watch King Corn!  An excellent documentary that will explain how fucked up this situation really is.

http://www.kingcorn.net/          Right now, King Corn can be viewed on the Netflix watch-now feature.

So, if you’ve never had real Cranberry Sauce, like anything that’s all natural and doesn’t come from a can, it takes you by surprise at first.  But seeing that we live in one of the top 5 states in the country to produce cranberries (I’m pretty sure Ocean Spray OWNS Chatsworth), it would be a shame to not take quick advantage to make some from scratch for Thanksgiving.  It’s thick without gelatin, sweetened by your choice of sweeteners, and a little bitter because it’s actual cranberries!

Monika made some tonight, and we don’t have pictures of the process, only the result.  But, it’s delicious, and takes only fifteen minutes, and very little skill on the stove (not that Monika doesn’t have plenty of kitchen skills)

1 Cup Sugar (or sugar substitute)

1 Cup Water

4 Cups Fresh Cranberries (local and organic is ideal, but we used what’s pictured above)

Optional:  nuts, orange zest, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, or anything else you feel like adding

1.  Wash cranberries.

2.  Boil water and sugar until disolved.

3.  Add cranberries and return to boil.

4.  Reduce Heat, Simmer for 10 minutes and stir continuously.  The cranberries will burst and start to gel

Add optional ingredients if you like.  Thicker when cooled, but delicious when hot and syrupy.

See you tomorrow with more recipes!

–~r

Super Bowl (And Why I'm not Attending)

Posted in Sports on November 23, 2009 by Verge

Well, looks like another year I will most definitely NOT be attending the Super Bowl, again.  Now, for every single one of the 300 million people in the United States, save the 75,000 that actually do get tickets, the privilege of actually attending a Super Bowl game might well be a life long pursuit.

Of course, not every one in the US wants to go to the game.  Only about 100 million actually sit down to watch the game.  But, seeing as the NFL is the second most lucrative sporting event in the history of mankind, and that billions of dollars are spent each and every year on games and merchandise alone, it stands to reason that at least half of those 100 million would like to, at least once in their lives, actually watch the game in person.

Okay, so we’ll be conservative, and say that at least 30 million people every single year at least want to see the game in person.  Now, let’s say that most of them, a damn lot of them, are raving fans that would pay the cost of the trip even though they definitely don’t have the money to do it.  Okay, a huge chunk can afford it, no problem, but a bunch would spend their child’s’ college fund for even the opportunity to be in a lottery and maybe have a fleeting chance at getting tickets to see the Super Bowl.  And would sleep in a van in the parking lot for three days if they couldn’t book a hotel room.

Now, you may or may not know for whom I work but, I have a pretty damn special opportunity.  Now, for a guy that is watching Good Will Hunting, for like the fourth time, instead of watching Monday Night Football, it sometimes gets under people’s skin when I tell them that I work for the NFL and then, tell them that I don’t watch football.

Two years ago, it was all set.  It was before the current recession.  Car companies were still spending millions on advertising instead of bleeding money.  I was set to work my first Super Bowl.  Not a glamorous job.  Long hours, away from my girlfriend for 3 weeks, no car, living in a hotel.  But then again, I was going to be a part of an event that only me and 75,000 other people are able to be a part of.  One that I would remember for a very long time.  Sure, it’s not the same as watching my team hoist the Stanley Cup, but it’s sure more culturally significant.

Things didn’t quite line up.  Back then, my company was going to pay me to work 7 days a week, with a per diem, and overtime, for three weeks.  They’d pay for my food, and my hotel, and even for entertainment.  They’d fly my girlfriend and another friend down to Florida for free, and put them up in my hotel.  Oh, and they’d give them both complimentary Super Bowl tickets.  In addition to my own, which would be on the field.  Sure, I’d be working, but working on the field of the god damned Super Bowl.

Well, that fell through.  And then things were lined up again, maybe for a minute, this year.  No free tickets for the wife, and no free transportation, but good money and still something I had hope for.  Well, that fell through again.

I offered a few people the pair of tickets I’m privileged to buy each year.  Every year, I’m allowed to buy a pair of tickets to the greatest American sports game of the year.  Not many people are afforded that opportunity.  No, it’s not a lottery, it’s not a contest.  If I want them, all I have to do is pay face value for them.  This year, they didn’t raise prices…$800 a piece, not including a flight to Miami and a hotel for a few days.  I didn’t buy them, again, this year.  None of my friends had the money this year either.

Next year, hopefully I can go.  Hopefully the economy is better, and instead of stripping more perks from the menu, they’ll reinstate some.  And I’ll get to go, with my wife.  I don’t care who’s playing since I don’t follow football.  But I do follow American culture, and I look forward to someday be able to  look back, and remember the time my wife and I attended a Super Bowl.  It’s like being in the Coliseum, watching the gladiators, not really caring who wins or loses, but sensing that you’ve been a part of something that’s historic, and will always be remembered by at least 75,000 people…plus 2.

–~r

Vegan Chili Recipe

Posted in Recipes on November 22, 2009 by Verge

Okay, so, though in the future we may be sharing recipes that we’ve stolen or adapted from other sources, this one is purely our own.  By purely our own, I mean, that one day, in Whole Foods, we simply looked at the ingredients of another vegan chili recipe on a frozen box,  memorized the few ingredients, and developed our own loose recipe that has proven to be a true crowd pleaser for vegetarians and carnivores alike.  Here are the ingredients:

1 Crock Pot

1 can black beans

1 can pink beans (or pinto beans, or whatever other kinda beans you want)

1 thingy of tofu (we like extra firm)

2 mediumish onions

1 handful of various peppers

2 Boca burgers (defrosted)

1 tbsp taco seasoning

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp curry

1 X-Large Martini, stirred, with olives (substitute cocktails of your choice)

A bunch of tomato sauce

Okay, so Boca Burgers are awesome.  On their own, they kind of suck as veggie burgers.  They are bland and not full of veggies at all.  However, as meat replacements in various recipes, they are perfect.  So, to start, defrost two Boca burgers.  This means, put them in the microwave for two minutes.  I’d crack the bags first.

Notice:  make sure to wear a totally cool apron, otherwise, you’re totally not cool.  Just so you know…

Okay so cut a couple of onions.  In this post, we used Vidalia, but whatever, use Spanish, or white, or yell0w, or whatever you have, it really makes very little difference.  Cut in half, then cut off the top and bottom, then slice and dice and what not…make it smallish!

Okay, so, about the peppers.  In this recipe, we used all home grown peppers from our summer garden, but if you don’t have one, you’ll have to buy some at the store.  We only use hot peppers.  Do not bother with any Bell Peppers!  Use Jalapeno, Chili, Habanero, or the like, but don’t waste your time with Bell.  If you must, then make sure you add some Cayenne Pepper to the mix to give your Chili some kick.

Also, we used some crazy ridiculous orange peppers from our garden that look completely innocent but are pure evil.  Because I know better, I choose to wear a rubber glove when making chili.  I’m not kidding.  Do not cut serious peppers without a rubber glove!  If you can cut your peppers without them, then you’re not using the right  kind of peppers.

Plenty of  vegan sites on the web will tell you that you have to freeze tofu before using  it.  Then, they tell you, when it’s defrosted,  put it between a couple towels and a book for twenty minutes.  Bullshit!!  Freeze it if you want; it does indeed make some difference, but for this recipe, fuck it.  Open the package and squeeze it over a sink until it’s almost liquid free, then crumble it into the crock pot.  That’s it.

Canned beans are fine, but you’ve gotta wash ’em first.  They’re still good because they’re packed in preservatives, namely, salt and a brine solution, so just make sure to rinse the beans before you dump them into the crock pot!

Dice the defrosted Veggie burgers.  Add to crock pot.  Measure out spices.  Add to crock pot.

Bonus:!!  open a can of corn, drain the liquid, add the corn to crock pot.

Add enough tomato sauce to make it Chili-like…

Cook on high for 6 hours or so, and eat with some good, hardy whole wheat bread.

I had great pictures of a lot of this stuff, but for some reason, I’ve been having trouble with wordpress, so you don’t get more pictures.  I can assure you that if you make this recipe, you’ll be happy…enjoy!

–~r

Nuclear Heart

Posted in Reflections on November 19, 2009 by Verge

So, this one isn’t so heavy with metaphysical rhetoric, it’s truly about the facts.  I’ve gone through several months of medications, and finally had two doctors agree, there’s something odd about my heart.  So, I fast and try to relax in the waiting room while I pour over some Sookie stories.

I’m eventually shaved, and poked, and wired, and scanned, and turn radioactive.   Sometimes I lay as still as possible while a robot circles me with his eyes to see inside of me;  sometimes I run, further and further uphill, faster and faster, until I soak my hair and top out my rate.  Then I can hear my heartbeat amplified while I’m coated in jelly and photographed from the inside.

And I wait.   In fear, for two weeks, I wait.  It’s not what they thought.  It’s nothing.  It’s something, but something else completely.  I don’t know what and I don’t know whether to be relieved, or be more worried.

The health of my heart is certain, but that is about the only thing so far.

Kaleidoscope

Posted in Reflections with tags , , on November 16, 2009 by Verge

“And he was right. With a feeling of cold water rushing through his head and body, Hollis knew he was right. There were differences between memories and dreams. He had only dreams of things he had wanted to do, while Lespere had memories of things done and accomplished. And this knowledge began to pull Hollis apart, with a slow, quivering precision.” …

“He fell swiftly, like a bullet, like a pebble, like an iron weight, objective, objective all of the time now, not sad or happy or anything, but only wishing he could do a good thing now that everything was gone, a good thing for just himself to know about.

When I hit the atmosphere, I’ll burn like a meteor.

“I wonder,” he said, “if anyone’ll see me?”

The small boy on the country road looked up and screamed. “Look, Mom, look! A falling star!”

The blazing white star fell down the sky of dusk in Illinois. “Make a wish,” said his mother. “Make a wish.”

-Ray Bradbury, “Kaleidoscope”

Tonight, my wife of exactly 6 months and I stand in an open field not far from our house, whispering as I carefully unfold our two canvas chairs, hoping that we’ll be lucky enough to avoid the rolling-in clouds from Philadelphia and see a millisecond flash of green cut the black of emptiness, and exasperated, point in glee and whisper, “you see?”

Each year, for the rest of our lives, the newspapers or the internet or the popular media of the day will remind us that midway through November, if you look to the skies at just the right moment, under just the right conditions, you will see the leftover dust of comet junk that circled the sun 3 hundred or 4 hundred or 5 hundred years ago.  At the same time, I will remember the leftover memories that manage to leave a dusting of nostalgia, forever recalling the delicate teetering of fall and winter, half a year after marriage, dissolving into the night, hand in hand, with my wife in a field.

We both silently hope that we are not Hollis, not regretful that we’ve failed to live our dreams, if even just a sliver of them, a fleeting glimpse of fulfillment.  As we tumble towards our eventual end, hand in hand, we can always strive to be even just a flash of light in someone else’s life, inspiring optimism in the face of eventual demise.

old friends

Posted in Reflections on November 16, 2009 by Verge

This weekend has been filled with a lot of old memories and friends.  To begin, Monika and I have a house guest.  My good friend for many years has fallen on some very tough times, and has precious few people to turn to.  I can’t say that we’ve been the closest of friends in the last few years, sometimes going several months without even a phone call, but true friends always find a spare bed for each other when the time finally comes.

It wasn’t all that long ago, when I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life, enduring a break up with an ex and a love affair with something completely different, that a true friend put me up for a while.  At the time, he was dating his future wife, and was living in a rather small apartment with his cat, and wasn’t exactly in the best of health himself.  But, against all good judgment, he knew that I needed a friend to be a crutch, and looking back on it now, I know that without that, I may have never made out as well as I did.  So when a friend needs a place for a minute or two, I feel somewhat honored to give back to the karma pool of just “being there.”

Tonight, I continued a reconnect with my life-long friend.  It is truly amazing to be able to reach that far back into my past with friends who were there to live it with me.  And, as much as the east coast, and NJ, and all the fast paced living can really get to me, I don’t think I will ever leave here because this is where my family and friends live.  Even after years, and circumstances, we can still pick up right where we left off, and I think that is the mark of true friendship.  And, I’ve decided, that in the coming months and years, that I will value the Brownies oath of “make new friends but keep the old.”  But, instead of reliving past memories, I’d like to make new ones with my friends, every day, so perhaps we never have to talk about yesterday, but tomorrow instead.

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