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Friday, September 10, 2010

Brought to you by an excess of eggplants and tomatoes

The top five questions people ask me when they hear I'm vegan are, more or less, in no particular order:

1) Don't you miss cheese?
2) How do you know plants don't have feelings?
3) Where do you get your protein?
4) Why?
5) What do you eat?

These are all difficult questions to answer*, but number 5 may be the hardest. Usually I say, "Everything except meat, dairy, and eggs. You know...Fruits. Vegetables. Grains. Nuts. Seeds. Funghi. Beans. Spices. Sauces." But, understandably, the answer still seems lacking, and probably comes across like "everything you surround your meat with and eat more or less reluctantly, minus your favorite stuff."

I suppose a better strategy would be to just mention something nice, simple, and tasty that I've prepared or eaten in the past day or two. Describing a specific meal probably does more to counter the sense that vegetarianism requires extreme discipline and asceticism, and might even be a bit alluring if done right. In fact, while looking up recipes, I found a blog called "What the hell does a vegan eat anyway?"** which addresses said topic.

(Indeed, in terms of convincing / coercing people to eat less meat, it's probably better to mention one good vegan meal and tell them how to make it than it is to mention 20 non-meat ingredients they could use to cook something for themselves, if only they knew how).

Actually, now that I think about it, there's no need to even mention something I actually ate recently. Why not just mention, say, one of my staple dishes, or a one-off that turned out particularly well? Something tasty, easy, and that doesn't feel like it needs meat to be complete. I could of course still pretend that I made it recently, to make it seem simple and concrete.

I submit, for your approval, an eggplant + tomato curry that I whipped up with produce I just had lying around, most of it on its last legs:

How to do it:

(Please forgive the lack of quantities and times. I don't pay much attention to either.)

- Mince garlic, chilis, and ginger and fry with some onion. If you have cumin or mustard seeds, fry them too. If you don't, add some ground cumin after a few minutes.

- Keep an eye out. Pour in a bit of water (1/4 to 1/2 a cup) if it looks like it is drying out.

- Add in the eggplants. Mine were cubed, but I'm sure strips would also work. No need to peel. Cover to keep the steam in.

- Continue adding water (1/4 to 1/2 a cup at a time) if it gets too dry.

- Once eggplants get pretty soft, drop in some tomatoes.

- Add tumeric, curry powder, ground cumin and coridander, garam masala, salt, and/or pepper to taste. I also happened to have some coconut powder, which I threw in.

- Depending on your preferred texture, you may also choose to mash it up a bit. Watch out for squirts of scalding cherry tomato juice.

- For some extra fat and protein, crush up some seeds or nuts and sprinkle them on top. Cashews would probably be best, but peanuts grow better here.

- I ate my first serving with mixed-grain rice (brown, black, sticky, corn, halved peas and beans) and my leftovers with some polenta, also left over. The third serving was accompanied by some steamed sweet pumpkin slices and half a sweet potato.

Voilà! I served some to my neighbor Mathan from Madurai (a city in Tamil Nadu, just a hundred km or so from Sadhana), a real authentic Indian person. He said that it was great but could use a little tamarind extract to thicken up the flavor and counteract the spiciness.

A very nice meal, with lots to recommend it! Lots of spice, lots of veggies, lots of flexibility (carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, peas, etc would probably work fine), very little oil, and can be made in about 30 minutes if you've got the routine down.

Give it a try.

1) People don't believe me when I say "not really." But it's true.
2) Generally nobody who asks this questions actually believes that plants and animals experience feelings the same way, or is asking it with plant welfare in mind. They are more likely than not trying to make my beliefs appear inconsistent, and make themselves feel justified. It's hard to answer a disingenuous question like this.
3) People, again understandably, don't believe me when I say that the above is enough.
4) "Environmental and ethical reasons" is too short and accusatory, but anything longer than that generates awkward silence.

**Actually, I'm not a huge fan of the blog. The meals are a little complicated and imposing for my tastes and, frankly, reek of BOBOhood***. I like my food simple, and with as many local ingredients and whole foods as possible. I suppose, though, that even these meals can seem simple, provided you keep the right stuff on hand and go through them once or twice. Also, I don't use my oven much.

***I realize I am a BO(urgeois) BO(hemian) in many ways and a hypocrite in some others. I also realize that you all probably realize this about me, and also that you realize that I also realize this about myself, and that I therefore probably don't need to point out that I realize it, too.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Vacation again!

As if the last two and a half months weren't enough, I've just received some good news. Chuseok, the Korea 3-day harvest festival, which in past years has fallen on such lame dates as Fri-Sat-Sun or Sat-Sun-Mon, has decided to fall upon a glorious, vacation-maximizing Tues-Weds-Thurs this year. Add to this the fact that I naturally have Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays off, and I get a 6-day weekend. Oh, and also, the school has decided to give us Monday off as well, meaning I get to tack on one more weekend AND the Friday before it. Might as well count the Thursday afternoon too, since I finish at 3.

So, September 15th to the 26th off. Somehow I feel myself leaning towards resigning the contract. Uh oh.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Thanks, Josh

In order to substantiate the braggadocio from a few posts back, I'd like to relay the following sentence I just overheard here in the office.

Background: We have a common table where we lay all of our worksheets and stuff so that anyone who wants them can make copies. Nobody really knows what belongs to whom.

Niall to Josh: Is this one yours?
Josh to Niall: No, if it looks like someone could really learn from it, it's probably Mike's.

Wisdom #5

I had two nectarines after dinner and didn't want to go to bed on a full stomach, so I started killing time by looking up Umberto Eco on wikipedia. The minute I saw the following quotations, I knew I had to share them. For anyone who reads my blog (or David Pekema's) and wants to know...what's with the lists?

Well..Umberto Eco says:

1) "We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That's why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It's a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don't want to die."


2) "I like lists for the same reason other people like football or pedophilia."

The two statements strike me as a little incompatible, but then again, Eco is a billion times smarter than me. Anyhow, I like 'em both.

Both from an interview in SPIEGEL in 2009 regarding Eco's (then) upcoming Louvre exhibition on the essential nature of lists, poets who list things in their works and painters who accumulate things in their paintings. Fascinating!

I wonder if there's another writer out there who can tell me why I like parentheses and footnotes?