Friday, July 27, 2007

Random Fridays: Clear Conscience Vanity

It’s one thing to give up meat with the knowledge that it’s parts of a dead animal you’re eating but, one of the biggest surprises Brian taught me was that pretty much everything around me is made of some animal part. Even if a certain company’s conditioner wasn’t poured into a bunny’s eye, unless it says otherwise, I was probably shampooing with animal parts. While I understand that many, many people are not going to give up meat (hell, I almost caved in yesterday when I smelled the grocery store rotisserie chicken, which I used to devour on hungry after-work nights), it seems unnecessary, and kinda gross to be slathering on cow fat. I just didn’t know. I guess they have to do something with all the leftover animals parts but, if I can avoid it, I try to buy vegetarian or vegan beauty products. There are so many good ones that are pretty much identical to their animal-derived counterparts (except Pantene, which is far from vegan but is the only thing that really cuts through my tangle of corkscrew curls). Most of them can also be found in any major supermarket so no trekking to distant stores is necessary.

Nature’s Gate: I use their lotion and just found their persimmon and ginger conditioner for more than half off at Marshall’s. Readily available at big chains like Stop and Shop and Wegmans, as well as your local health food store.

Shikai: Just found their cucumber and melon body wash at Wegmans. What a concept—a cucumber melon bath gel that actually contains cucumber and melon! Lathers up nicely and smells delicious. For about 6 bucks, it’s less than the Bath and Body Works stuff and other major brands.

Alba Botanica: Their minty deep conditioner does a good enough job if I don’t allow my curls to get too dreaded. Otherwise, only Pantene will do. Pantene is some magical stuff. I don’t think I’ll give it up. Oh well, it’s an imperfect world. Alba has an extensive line that includes lip balms, facial moisturizer, and many other beauty products, none of which are animal-derived (although some may contain milk).

This weekend I'll be in Philadelphia to be a part of celebrating Brian's grandmother's 90th birthday. We're going to try to hit up Headhouse Farmer's Market on Sunday morning before I head over to my hair consultation at Juju Salon, an organic hair salon, to figure out how to layer and nourish my very long and parched curls.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Balance in the Distance

A long-distance relationship poses all sorts of challenges, particularly when it comes to sharing meals together. For Joselle and me, the last few weeks of summer have been quite the rollercoaster in the way of our mutual menu. It's not always funnel cake and water ice. When we meet up for condensed weekend time together, we typically pack those too-few hours with unconventional mealtimes and restaurant excursions (e.g., recent trips to Greenlight, Red Bamboo, and Zen Palatte). This can all be very exciting, but oftentimes much more expensive and somewhat less healthy than homecooked meals.

When we're apart---which is a good bit of the time---mealtimes for me are extremely lonely, and homecooked meals are few and far between. I don't enjoy shopping and cooking for myself; something that basically equates with understocked cabinets, bland meals, and poor nutrition. This hits me hardest when I experience an onset of Epstein-Barr Virus symptons (stemming from adolescent mononucleosis), which seem to be recurring more frequently with each passing year. These are the times when I need to take the best care of myself, but I typically feel the least motivated to prepare food, clean up, and do it all over again. Lethargy and mild depression often go with the territory, and it becomes a real pain in the neck to whip up meal after wholesome meal.

I'm sure when Joselle and I eventually find a way to be closer to each other, meals won't seem so far away. They probably won't always be as perfectly prepared and timed as we like them to be; but we'll definitely work to establish nourishing systems and structures for ourselves that will help to better define our life together (we've already discussed the importance of sitting down to eat dinner as a family). For now, the adage of "you are what you eat" is so very true; a lonely meal that leaves my stomach empty also leaves my spirit feeling pretty much the same way. And, let me tell you: As tender as Trader Joe's Soy Nuggets can be when properly nuked, they'll never be able to take the place of a meal with my main squeeze, Joselle.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Another busy work week has precluded Brian and I from posting this week. Here's a quick rundown of interesting links and happenings:

  • Listening right now to a segment on NPR's Day To Day, "Kids and Vegetarians." Dr. Sydney Spiesel, who is interviewed, seems to think vegetarian diets are just fine for long as the diets are lacto-ovo and not entirely vegan. While not entirely anti-vegan, he does lay out some precautions for the parents of children considering this diet. This is something I think about in terms of my future children. Will they be vegetarian? Mostly vegetarian? Eating chicken? I can't imagine denying them the joys of a good grilled cheese sandwich (mostly because I cannot deny myself). All stuff I'm only just beginning to clear brain space to think about.
  • Tonight, Brian and I will be heading into the city to see Neko Case at Summerstage. We both cannot wait. I've loved Neko Case's music for years and since we've started dating, I've gotten Brian hooked to her as well. This is my first time seeing her. And it's a free show. Doesn't get more perfect that that.
  • While I haven't been able to schedule in posting time here, I have been able to briefly glance at some very good blogs. The Urban Vegan follows a Philly resident in her meals and travels. She's featured some really amazing looking desserts that I'm looking forward to trying, like Coconut Pie made with cashews, coconut cream, and a drizzling of chocolate ganache. There's also vegan Nutella, which I have to make for Nutella-virgin Brian. If it's anywhere near the ambrosia that is the original Nutella, life will be worth living. Straight From the Farm is all about utilizing the goodies that can be found in Philadelphia's Weaver's Way Co-op, which Brian took me to in June. The blog includes many recipes, gorgeous photographs, and coverage of many Philly food- and farm-related events. Tropical Vegetarian Family displays the meals of one vegan family in Puerto Rico. I long believed that being Puerto Rican meant it would be nearly impossible to live without the undeniably delicious pernil--roasted pork--but, so far, I have been able to resist. My grandfather made the best pernil and, sadly, since he isn't around anymore, it'll be that much easier to pass on the pork. But Tropical Vegetarian Family shows that is possible to make great Puerto Rican dishes without meat, poultry, or dairy. I mean, we do love our plaintains and rice and beans so it really isn't that hard.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Random Fridays

  • Feist's "I Feel It All," is such a current obsession that I have texted Brian asking him to accompany me to the Princeton Record Exchange this afternoon so I can finally pick up Feist's CDs.
  • We'll be in Princeton because we're going to Zen Palate ("Buddhist Vegetarian Cuisine") with Brian's friend this afternoon. The menu looks absolutely delicious.
  • The Yards Kickoff to the Fair Food 2007 season is this Sunday from 2 pm to 6:30 pm in Philadelphia's Kensington section, home of our very own (and, luckily, my very own) Brian. There will be all local ingredient cheese steaks (pastured beef and vegetarian), hand crafted ales, live music, and a chance to dunk local food leaders in a dunk tank.
  • Happy Weekend!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Ambivalent (Sorta) Vegetarian

Kim of The Lazy Vegan posted about a great essay on July 10th's MSNBC Health, "Ambivalent Vegitarian faces meat of the matter," by Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn. The author initially became a vegetarian as a weight loss strategy (as someone who lost over 40 pounds by eating lots of pork tenderloin, chicken breast, sirloin steak, and eggs, I'm astonished at how any vegetarian achieves and maintains a svelte figure. But I'm guessing that those are the ones who put the "veg" in vegetarian by actually eating a lot of vegetables). Upon resuming meat-eating years later, she suddenly finds herself feeling guilty about eating the flesh of animals:

Increasingly, when I looked at a piece of beef on my plate, I no longer
the calories I’d have to jog off the next day. I saw something that looked
unnervingly like flesh — flesh not all that different from my own. This
my mind to uncomfortable comparisons. Skinned and butchered, how
different would I look on a plate? How different was this piece of meat from me?

When I ate meat, it wasn't unusual for me to pick up a nice steak and bottle of red wine whenever I was feeling sluggish and lifeless. I remember reading about French doctors prescribing this remedy to patients whenever they needed some pep in their step and that made sense to me. I'd just barely cook the steak, leaving it pretty bloody, pink and red within and charred without, thinking that the bloodier the steak, the more restorative it would be. I never winced. Never really thought about the fact that I was eating dead cow. On the rare occassions that preparing steak or removing the gizzards from a chicken I was about to roast prompted me to get a little, well, grossed-out, I'd quickly put it out of my mind. It's just food. I'm just feeding myself. Get over it. Or, don't get over it. Face what it is. Yes, prepping a dead, plucked, headless chicken for roasting can be a little unseemly. But it will taste so good. And I went on with it. I remember my grandmother butchering and scaling whole fish and thought, a real cook doesn't mind the blood and guts of it. My mother sucked the marrow out of bones before it became haute cuisine. I was used to thinking of eating animals as just something you do. Yes, how admirable to be a vegetarian but who could live like that? I never thought I could. Now I am not eating land animals and I am not buying cheese if it has rennet and I am thinking about when or if I'll eventually give up fish too, a food I didn't even really crave back when I was eating meat. I'm a freaking pescetarian. One of those dumbasses who classifies fish as vegetarian-friendly.

Today I'm feeling rather slow and my old steak and wine remedy as popped into mind. I'm quickly tiring of veggie burgers and salads for lunch. I am craving meat. Much as I abhor what we do to animals to eat their bodies and drink their milk, I still love the way all of that tastes--butter, a steak, fried chicken. I am most definitely on the fence. Disgusted by the fact that the flesh I want has been procured in such horrific ways and yet still able to say it tastes good. And beyond the flavor, I remember meat satisfying me, feeling like a complete meal in my stomach--roast chicken, potatoes or rice, some asparagus or snow peas tossed in olive oil, fresh garlic, salt, pepper, and a splash of soy sauce. That's a meal. Then again, it was one of my favorites--the roast chicken--that made me gag and hand over the meat to the dog when I connected what was on my plate to what happened on a farm in god knows where.

I could be romanticizing meat's powers to satisfy and rejuvenate, like an ex who looks better after a few months or years have passed. Truthfully, I've always had a problem with lunch. I've never been able to quite figure out what to pack for work that will keep me tied over for 6 hours. I pretty much get hungry every 2 to 3 hours, with or without meat. And that's all thanks to dieting, which has shrunk my stomach so that I get full very quickly but then hungry again just as soon. And the steak and wine routine? While tasty, the wine probably made me too sleepy to allow the steak to revitalize my energy levels, if it could even do that at all.

In many ways, my transition into vegetarianism isn't unlike dieting. Lifestyle change? Whatever. I'm concentrated on what I can't eat rather than what I can. Deprivation is a means to an ends and I've done it before. Like a diet, it hasn't been all pleasurable. I had the Cuban Platter at Caravan of Dreams this past weekend with Brian and Sky, and, yes, the grilled bananas were great, rice and beans passable for a non-Cuban joint, and the vegan sour cream-- though I couldn't mistake it for the real thing--it was nice. But those blocks of tofu standing in for what? Pork? Chicken? Nothing? It just didn't do it for me. Something was missing. I grabbed a few bites of Brian's seitan, which was pretty good, a much more accurate meat-substitute but not meat. Sometimes I do wonder if I can pull this off for a lifetime. Food is the one thing I wholeheartedly enjoy (would I need to diet if I didn't?) and yet, it's been the most fraught, complicated, and sometimes painful area of my life.

I remind myself that I don't need to give up meat forever. I won't know how I'll feel about this in 5, 10, 20 years. I mean, I should just wait and see how this Thanksgiving goes. Maybe I'll completely fall off the wagon today or November or 4 years from now, finally buying a pair of leather shoes again while I down a burger. Maybe I'll become a militant vegan, swearing off my beloeved cheese. I don't know yet. I don't feel like a "real" vegetarian (or even pescetarian), completely at peace with what I've decided to eat and not eat. And yet, I don't completely relate to being the meat-eater who doesn't at least pause to think about what passes their lips. I am in limbo, a dietary purgatory. It's not unlike being in a 12-step program. One day at a time. Today, I won't eat meat. We'll deal with the day I'm chasing down a bucket of fried chicken when it comes but for now, it hasn't.

The last paragraph of the essay has a very particular resonance for me:

Of course, I can continue to live a conflicted life, and no one will judge me
but me. But though I crave resolution, so far, I am unable (or unwilling) to
make the sacrifice. What does this say about me? Am I incapable of exercising empathy when it’s inconvenient? Which leaves me
to contemplate a particular irony: It is not other people but animals
who are forcing me to consider the depth and breadth of my humanity.

Every time I pick up a menu.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Picture Pages

Due to my computer freezing every time I tried to upload pictures, Mutual Menu has, until this point, been picture-less. Well, I figured out a way around the freezing and here are some pictures that link to some previous posts. New photos and posts to follow. But not today. Not on a day when all I can manage to eat for dinner are stale, packaged taco shells stuffed with cheese and guacamole followed by some soy cream and Nutella. Just the kind of meal hormones live for.

The so-called Better Burger.

After Better Burger, we wait in line to see Cassandra Wilson at Summerstage, Central Park, NYC.

The vegan apricot almond cupcakes that came out sucken with little holes in the center but they were still devoured. Recipe courtesy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

My Hawaiian French Toast at Kaya's Kitchen, which Brian reviewed.

Brian's Banana Pancakes at Kaya's Kitchen.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act

Like many of you in the US, I'm just getting back to work today after an abbreviated work schedule last week due to the Fourth of July and am now playing catch-up in my workday. So, in lieu of an original post, here's a link to an e-mail I received from the Humane Society of the United States today. It was an article on factory farming in the Humane Society's members magazine, All Animals, a few months back that moved me to stop eating meat and start thinking more about what goes in my body. So it's very appropriate to share this short but important note on Mutual Menu. I'm grateful to the organization for expanding my definition of animal rights and compassion to beyond just cats and dogs.

We'll be back with more original content and--WOW!--pictures very soon.

Dear Friend,
I just took action online to prevent cruelty to "downed" animals
and protect public health. "Downers" are animals too sick or injured to walk on
their own. They are often dragged to slaughter with chains or just left to
suffer and die, sometimes for days. This kind of suffering is inexcusable. In
addition, downed animals have a higher risk of carrying diseases, like mad cow,
E. coli, and Salmonella. Congress is considering a bill to ban the slaughter of
downed animals. I hope you will join me and encourage your Representative and
Senators to support the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act. It will
only take a minute -- here is the link:

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

An Almost No Cooking Truly Independent Day

Here are some easy tips for an inclusive, no-muss, no-fuss kinda BBQ:

  • I suppose most grillers have their own methods for firing up burgers and stuff so I won't reinvent the wheel here. Obviously, the easiest burger solution for vegetarians are frozen veggie burgers. My all-time favorites for a few years now have been Morningstar Farms Grillers Prime, which are entirely vegetarian, though not vegan because they contain egg whites. Though the portion isn't huge and meaty, the taste is. My meat-loving grandfather even enjoyed them. The vegan Morningstar Farms burgers tastes like turds but I enjoy the vegan Amy's Organic All-American burgers. Rather than being mushy, like some veggie burgers, they have a crunchy, nutty, smokiness to them, no doubt due to the walnuts and natural hickory-smoked flavor they contain. I like to enjoy them with some American or cheddar cheese and slices of avocado and red onion.
  • The Baker makes delicious honey whole wheat rolls, that go great with any burger. Though the rolls are not entirely vegan, some of the company's sliced breads are.
  • I love cheese more than your average mouse. If I were vegan, I'd probably forgo non-dairy cheese because the ones I've tried taste awful. I don't even do lower fat cheese and I'm a veteran dieter. It's full-fat or nothing. Cabot Cheese has great cheddars made from non-animal derived rennet. For an oozy, slightly neon experience, I love Horizon Organic American Cheese slices, which also uses microbial as opposed to animal-derived rennet. I picked up some 100% vegan cheese slices by Galaxy Foods for Brian, which he enjoyed on a veggie burger. I was, however, too chicken to try it out due to its slightly brown-tinge. I've heard more than a few times that Sheese is pretty damn close to the real thing. They even have gouda, one of my absolute favorite cheeses. Be on the look out for cheeses that label themselves as soy or non-dairy cheese. That doesn't mean they are vegan. They may still contain casein and other substances derived from animal's milk.
  • There are other things to grill besides burgers and hot dogs. Epicurious has quite a few grilled tofu recipes. And as if I haven't talked about cheese enough, there's grilled halloumi. Halloumi tastes like very salty mozzarella but when you grill it, it doesn't entirely melt. The outside turns a lovely, grilled brown while the inside turns a bit soft. It's a meaty cheese, wonderful with sauteed or grilled onions and red peppers. The brand I pick up at Wegmans also contains non-animal derived rennet.
  • Why eat at all? Just drink margaritas all day:
  • Pomegranate Margarita, serves two
    2 cups
    pomegranate juice
    ½ cup lime juice
    2 tablespoons orange liqueur
    ½ cup
    lime, halved
    Margarita salt

    1. Pour
    pomegranate juice
    into an ice cube tray and freeze until solid, at least two
    2. Combine
    lime juice, orange liqueur, and tequila in a blender.
    Blend at high speed and
    gradually drop in all but two juice ice cubes. Blend
    until slushy.
    3. Run one
    half of lime over both serving glasses. Dip rim
    of glasses into a dish of
    margarita salt.
    4. Place one pomegranate ice
    cube in each glass. Pour
    margarita mixture into each glass and serve.

    Adapted from Mix a Marvelous Margarita, which was like a dollar at Target.

Sunday, July 1, 2007


Nothing brings the heat through the summer months like a backyard barbeque. It was always my experience that the Fourth of July in Philly really evokes folks' pyromania and taste for all things grilled. For vegetarians and carnivores alike, however, this can be an incendiary, controversial topic that makes for an ultimately fun-filled conversation piece at any event!

For me---especially as a vegan---a good old-fashioned barbeque doesn't have so much to do with the scent or flavor of burnt flesh as it has to with the meaning of family and community interaction, among people in the flesh. We, too, are members of the animal kingdom---and we crave the concept of spending time with others, as much as we crave the crust of blackened edibles upon our tongues. Unfortunately, I don't know of too many people doing this kind of thing this year; Joselle and I definitely aren't. Is it that barbeque traditions are fading fast---or does it have to do with a growing trend toward the privatized, compartmentalized, self-serving tendencies of our human species?

Times are changing fast. With supposed advances in technology, humans certainly aren't getting better at the whole civilization thing---and this includes where food's concerned. Many of us aren't sharing the picnic table like we used to; something of which I'm also guilty. Case in point: Here I am, composing a computerized note, while daydreaming about what I'm going to eat at Kingdom of Vegetarians or New Harmony Vegetarian in a short myself.

I guess I should rather be skipping about town, picking vegetable kabobs from the sky, throwing them on to the flames, and inviting fellow food consumers to join me in the shade of trees that sprout from our ever-changing planet. Yes, I'll definitely try to get around to doing that right after lunch!