Saturday, October 15, 2011

Eating out.

As I may well have mentioned in a previous post, because of the spiritual community that Leopold belongs to, we do not eat meat on Fridays.

Or, put more accurately, I do not serve meat for dinner on Fridays. I've been known to enjoy the odd Friday beer and burger combo.

But this week is the last week that we will be getting a meat delivery from our CSA. Our vegetable share, thanks to the very different climate here in our new rural city home, ended last week. Which has started me thinking in a very different way about the omnivore's dilemma.

This week, for no real reason but that there the temperature had dropped a bit and, for reasons I will likely be writing about in the not-too-distant future, we were holding off on letting the furnace kick in until a visit from our friendly neighborhood repairman, I started a pot of beans.

Simple. Easy. Two cups of beans and some cold water set on the back of the stove for the day. Add some sauteed onion, a baby eggplant,  crushed tomatoes and a few hits of rooster sauce...a kind of really good vegetarian chili.

Add to that a side outing I took today to the natural food store located nearby. This is one of two that I had known about but, as time tends to fill faster than you think it will, I had never been to either. So, since Leopold was stuck behind his desk working on a paper about the Biblical Great Flood, I took the opportunity to make a visit and pick up some animal crackers (1).

As natural food stores go (2) this one was actually much larger and better put together than a lot that I've seen. The staff was young and a goofy in a really fun way, joking with each other and singing while they stocked shelves (3). A huge selection of beans and grains and dry goods. Locally-sourced or sustainably raised meat in the freezers. A small but respectably in-season vegetable aisle. There were people out front collecting signatures to get marriage equality on the ballot.

If NPR had been playing, it would have been the kind of scene a fiction workshop would have shredded for being too unrealistic.

But there it was, sitting an easy drive away in our new rural city.

All this making me think that it might be time to push the Friday thing a bit further. Because I was trying to finish up some odds and ends from our last CSA veggies before they went bad, we were actually meatless a few times. Braised celery with tomatoes and lentils on pasta one night. A kale and lentil stew with brown rice another. Artichoke and cheese quiche with roasted potatoes another.

And, as much as I will always consider a good cheeseburger the real test of a restaurant's bar menu, these vegetarian experiments and the discovery of a wall full of solid, cheap options has made me think that a challenge might be in order.

See, most vegetarian cookbooks bore me. While I think that there are some great techniques out there, the reality is that too many fall into the perception that folks have of vegetarian cooking. They are the NPR-listening, gay marriage petition pushing, "natural food" store of food publishing.

But, when I have a chicken in the freezer, or pork chops or ground beef...I don't go to our cookbooks. I might, to check a cooking temperature or sample a time, but I've long since passed that point where I need a daily tether. I know enough to intuit time and temperature. I have a pretty decent artillery of tools at my disposal. I'm not afraid to make my own stock or braising liquid.

So why is it that I've been giving vegetables an easy out on this deal?

Too few months ago, when our very brief CSA had finally started, I tore into our first delivery bag and Leopold joked that I finally seemed excited to cook again. With winter creeping closer every day, and a new farmer's market season well off into the distance, maybe that pot of beans is something to keep my eye on.

The food industry has made it so it's entirely possible to eat exactly and precisely the same four meals every day of the year, wherever you are. The ingredients will likely always be close at hand. What happens then, when we give in and make the most with what we have?

1. Get it? Great Flood? Animal crackers? 
2. A phrase I can't use without instantly imagining a bunch of people in loose-fitting hemp clothes selling dented melons while raving about the pot of bee pollen tea they just brewed.
3. Not in a Glee way, more like how you do when you're riding around in the car.


I am one of the 99%.

Big deal, right?

I mean, I can appreciate a good slogan as much as the next urban camping enthusiast, but there's been something bothering me about this entire back and forth.

And it started before the Tea Partiers decided that their brand of standing in the middle of public spaces screaming at people passing by and waving sometimes incredibly offensive signage was different than the Occupy movements brand of standing in public spaces screaming at people passing by and waving sometimes difficult to fully comprehend signs.

It started before Herman Cain decided to purport the idea that being unemployed and living in poverty was a character flaw.

It started before I had to comprehend the idea of people cheering that the space they were occupying was NOT going to be cleaned and sanitized when many of us who have lived in urban spaces would have been more than appreciative of someone offering to clean and sanitize anything.

It started before the annoying dismissal of the Occupy protesters by a commentator who took issue with the fact that locations were often planned based on the availability of wireless. For anyone speaking in the context of a news organization to not understand the why of that should be more embarrassed than the citizen activist who wants to stay within broadband distance of a hotspot.

It started before the Democrats began putting their toes meekly into the shallow end of the Occupy Wall Street movement, trying to determine when these protesters would eventually wield the influence sometimes demonstrated by the Tea Party.

It started before the Republicans conveniently forgot that, when it was the Tea Party waving "Don't Tread on Me" flags in the streets, they condemned anyone who questioned the motivations of loyal Americans trying to have their voices heard.

It even started before the latest Facebook revamp caused comments made by members of my family, about the whining spoiled liberals with private school educations and advanced degrees, to serve as my morning wake up call.

In other words, it started pretty early, kicked off, as a matter of fact, by an e-mail exchange with a family member who wanted to hear a "liberal" perspective on the protests.

What I said, and what many commentators and individuals skilled with The Photoshop have worked hard to convince us all otherwise, is that I see the Occupy and the Tea Party movements as far more alike than they are different. Maybe the tactics are not the same. Maybe the overall power structure is different and the expressed goals diverge more than they overlap, but at their core, they are both emotions-based outbursts.

I won't diminish or demean either (2) by using a word like tantrum, because I mean outburst much like I would use the word "cloudburst". This is about a sudden release, a flash storm of frustration and anger and, I'll say in both cases...despite the surface support the Republican Party has decided to afford the Tea Party...a sense of real helplessness and powerlessness. A desire to want to make things better, even though the visions of what that "better" future will be are wildly different.

And in that desire to see things get better, I have to say that I'm fully onboard.

In that, I am the 99%.

1.) Points to the Occupy folks though...the spelling has been generally pretty good.
2.) At this point at least.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why I don't have a book contract.

I was sitting behind someone at a book festival a few weeks ago who made the statement, "My agent told me that the animal memoir has crested."

I will note here that this particular individual had managed to mention her agent enough times that there was no choice but for the woman seated next to me and I to exchange eye rolls with one another.

But, today I am here to say that it's not that the animal memoir has seen its day come and go. It's just that people are telling the wrong story.

Here, I will tell the inspirational dog story that the others are afraid to tell.


Well, because it's kind of gross.

You see, last night, upon arriving home from a dinner party, Leopold went to fetch Finkelstein only to discover that she had accident. A...number two kind of accident.

Finkelstein is not a dog who is prone to accidents. I can, in fact, count on less than one hand the number of times that she has not made it outside.

On two occasions, she was flat out mad. Leopold was away. Our regular dog walker (1) was away. I was working crazy hours and had been deemed completely incompetent as a single parent. Finkelstein was left no choice but to administer her own brand of tough love.

And, in one instance, the last one I recall, she was suffering from a passing stomach bug, which is what did her in this time.

After an unplanned, and very chilly, outdoor bath and a thorough scrubbing of her crate (2), the Fink retired to the comfort of her favorite blanket.

Or, she briefly retired to her favorite blanket. Finkelstein and I would venture out three times before her usual morning walk. At one point, bleary eyed and disbelieving that she needed to go out again, I threw Leopold's giant L.L. Bean flannel coat over my shorts and a pair of Vans to take her out (3).

"It was only later," I told Leopold, "that I realized I was walking our dog dressed as an Alaskan hooker."

But after all this, the accident, the bath, the multiple late night walks with Nanook of the Nooky, and her usual morning walk where things were shown to still not be entirely right, Finkelstein came into the kitchen and went to the spot she goes to when she is waiting to be fed.

And she waited.

And she waited.

I, for all obvious reasons, did not feed her breakfast, hoping quite out loud that we would soon move from "explosive" to plain old "diarrhea" very soon (4), but truly had a moment where I couldn't help but admire our girl's cockeyed optimism. After all that, she was ready to sit down to her usual breakfast.

It's certainly not the kind of story the pet memoir literati is looking to tell, but when you've been up all night walking the streets, you take what enlightenment you can get.

1. ...who broke all the rules and would take Finkelstein with her for hours at a time. For the price of a 20-minute walk, Finkelstein was officially transformed into a girl about town. She was Doggie Golightly.
2. I know that it is controversial to some folks but, I will swear on anything you hold holy, Finkelstein is a big fan of the crate. She will actually take her bones and toys and put herself in the crate. She's the sullen teenager we've never had.
3. Temperatures here are already in the 30s at night. You would not believe how happy that makes me.
4. Every dog owner I know is in full agreement. Nothing causes your stomach to sink faster than the realization that the dog has diarrhea. It's beyond me that it was not named to a circle of Hell.