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    Salt is evil. Or is it?Mark Bittman recently wrote about how people talk about food in good-and-evil terms. Salt is…View Post
  2. Thinking vegetarian


    What do plants eat? They eat dead animals; that’s the problem. For me that was a horrifying realization. You want to be an organic gardener, of course, so you keep reading ‘Feed the soil, feed the soil, feed the soil…’



    All right. Well, what does the soil want to eat? Well, it wants manure, and it wants urine, and it wants blood meal and bone meal. And I…could not face that. I wanted my garden to be pure and death-free. It didn’t matter what I wanted: plants wanted those things; they needed those things to grow.



    So I sort of played a moral hide-and-seek in my mind. I was left with this realization that I could eat an animal directly, or I could pass an animal through a plant and then eat it, but either way there were animals involved in this process. I could not remove animals from the equation.



    I had to accept on some level that there was a cycle here, and it was very ancient, and ultimately very spiritual. It was really hard for me to accept the ‘death’ part of that equation. It took me years to finally face it. But there wasn’t any way out of it if I was going to grow things.




    (Lierre Keith, on gardening as a vegan; October 8, 2009 on Underground Wellness Radio)




    I am not a vegetarian. I have eaten enough meat to feed a thousand third-world kids for ten years.  But I think about it a lot. I like the idea of eating only vegetables; I hate the idea of animals dying to feed my appetite.



    However: chicken, and pork, and beef (and goat, and eggs, and cheese, and mutton) taste good from time to time.



    I love the advice Mark Bittman gives: be vegetarian as much you can, but don’t go crazy. Meat can be a side dish, a flavoring; it doesn’t need to be a main dish.



    But the Lierre Keith piece above (which I found on Tumblr) gave me pause.  She’s exactly right. There’s no escape from death. Plants love the death of animals; it feeds them. Plants love the waste and decay of the animal world.



    Quite obviously, plants and animals feed on one another.



    Sad, and creepy. But true. Even when you’re eating a salad.



    I think the important thing is to be mindful of what you’re eating. Don’t not think about it. Don’t wolf down a cheeseburger without thinking about it. Same with a salad. Think about where the ingredients came from, and what nutritional requirements are being filled by what you’re eating.



    It’s all about mindfulness.



    (Oh what a priggish New Age pseudo-Buddhist nerd I have become!)


  3. Goodbye, New York Times


    The only newspaper to which I subscribe – in the sense that there’s actually an ink-and-newsprint newspaper outside my door in the morning – is the Financial Times.  I began buying it some years ago because I liked the crossword puzzle.  Then, gradually, I found its dry British take on world politics far more appealing than the MacWorld version offered by American news sources, and its business coverage was intricate and mysterious.  I don’t know much about economics, but I have always been intrigued by the subject, and I always feel, when I read FT articles about the future of the Euro or the BRICs or Emerging Markets or black swans that I am trembling on the edge of recognition and understanding. 


    Also, I like the salmon-tinted paper it’s printed on.  (Somebody on the bus asked me once: “What’s the matter with your newspaper, mister?  It’s a funny color.”)


    Then, of course, there is the New York Times


    I have been a faithful follower of the NYT (both print and online) for many years.  It has nourished me in many ways.  I like its rhythm: world news, national news, local (meaning New York City) news, op-ed, culture.  It’s unabashedly liberal, and I welcome its confirmation of my beliefs and prejudices (as do we all).  And the writing is generally excellent.


    A little less than a year ago, the NYT announced that its website would no longer be free.  For full access, you have to cough up fifteen bucks a month.  (That’s just digital access, mind you.  A lot of porn sites cost less than that.  Don’t ask me how I know.)  You can still read twenty articles a month for free; you can also access the Times through search engines, etc.  But if you want to romp around on their websites – culture, videos, travel, food, movies, editorials, all the things they do so well – you have to pay.


    Hm, I thought back in February 2011, and prepared to do without.


    Then, for no apparent reason, the Cadillac division of General Motors (with which I have no real connection) gifted me via email with a nine months’ online subscription.


    It expired on December 31.


    Goodbye, Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins, both of whom I read consistently, and often laughed aloud as I did so, and quoted their nastier/funnier lines to my friends.  If I were a conservative (shiver!), I would probably find them strident and silly, kind of like the way I actually feel about Rush Limbaugh.  But I agree with them.  So nyah nyah!


    Goodbye, David Brooks and Ross Douthat.  The former is a cheesy social critic who plays Edmund Burke, but not very well; the latter is the token-conservative editorialist, who takes a topic – like, let’s say, Ron Paul – and finds something to like in him after all.  Also, Ross is Catholic (but then again, in his columns, he almost always reminds you of that). 


    Goodbye, Bill Cunningham, bicycling around New York and taking photos of people and their outfits.  May you live forever.


    Goodbye, Mark Bittman.  You got a little Hollywood over the past few years, but your writing is excellent and your recipes are very good. 


    Goodbye, Frank Bruni.  He used to do restaurant reviews; now he does general (and often political) commentary, and does it very well. 


    Goodbye, Seth Kugel, the Frugal Traveler, so much better and more entertaining than the guy who was the Frugal Traveler before him.


    Goodbye Nick Kristof and Paul Krugman, for cheerfully leading me into the coming political / economic apocalypse.  You’ve both been right consistently.  Keep at it.


    And all the rest.


    I’ll still be checking in, maybe twenty times a month, or maybe more.


    (Is $15/month too much to pay?  Maybe.  We’ll see.  I may start jonesing for Gail and Maureen and Paul and Frank in a few months and give in.)


    But for now: goodbye, my dear and lovely friends, goodbye.

  4. The Vegetarian Times


    Last weekend I cooked a pork roast.  I also read the latest issue of the Vegetarian Times.


    Yes, I know. 


    But here’s the thing: I am not the carnivore I used to be.  I go meatless two or three days a week at least.  I like very much Mark Bittman’s compromise: be as meatless as you can be without driving yourself crazy.


    There are some good recipes in the most recent issue of the Vegetarian Times. I intend to try the black-bean-and-sweet-potato enchiladas, and maybe the stuffed mushrooms, and the nice Hungarian crepe-and-jelly dessert. 


    But there is also a whole mindset to this vegetarian thing, a fiery self-righteousness.  One reader wrote to complain that a recent article might actually encourage people to eat sweet corn, which – gasp! – might be genetically modified.  The editors duly apologized.  References to obscure food items – tempeh, kombucha, chaga, spelt – are everywhere.  It’s like any other club: the members really don’t want you to understand what they’re talking about. 


    It’d be helpful if they relaxed a bit.  It’s not a religion, after all; it’s just a way of eating.


    I was especially bemused by references to something called Quorn.  Evidently it was a meat substitute, but I had no idea what it was; I assumed it might be something like soy. 


    But, oh my, it’s ever so much better than that!


    It’s a mycoprotein: a substance produced by a fungus called Fusarium venenatum.  The fungus produces strands called hyphae, which resemble the fibers in meat.  If you grow this fungus in a vat and harvest it, you can moosh it up and turn it into a meat substitute.


    I have no problem with this; I’m Polish on my mother’s side, we love to eat fungi.  But the nice people at Quorn were concerned that people might not like their product, so they started telling little white lies.  They said, for example, that Quorn was “mushroom protein.”  (Our friend Fusarium is a fungus, but not all fungi are mushrooms.  Fusarium, to be frank, is a mold.  It is probably not good for sales to say so out loud.)  If you haven’t seen Quorn much in the USA, that’s because a couple of other companies screamed loudly that Quorn causes dangerous allergic reactions in a significant percentage of consumers.  (It appears that the claim is vastly overblown, and that Quorn is no more dangerous than, say, mushrooms.  Or peanuts, for that matter.)


    And who funded the anti-Quorn campaign?  Why, a company called Gardenburger.  You may known them.  They make meatless products. 


    See?  Vegetarians aren’t necessarily nice people.


    This makes me feel better, because I know I will never be a nice person, vegetarian or not.


  5. Sunday blog: No-knead bread

    This recipe goes out to all those who are fearful of baking bread.  It’s very simple (so long as you follow the basic outline), and the result is very nice indeed: a chewy crust and a nice fluffy white interior. Mark Bittman says that this is his most popular recipe of all time, and only regrets that he didn’t create it (it came from his acquaintance Jim Fahey).


    The only problem with this recipe is that the dough needs to meditate for long periods of time. Last time I made it, I started the process on Friday evening, checked in on the process around noon on Saturday, and put it in the oven at three p.m.  Voila! Home-baked bread for dinner.


    Thoroughly mix in a large bowl:


    3 cups all-purpose white flour

    1 5/8 cups water (be precise)

    1 ¼ teaspoon salt (again, be precise)

    1 packet active dry yeast or instant yeast


    Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in a warmish place for at least 12 hours.


    You should now have a bowlful of white goo covered with little bubbles. Turn the goo onto a floured surface, flour it again, fold it once or twice, cover it with the same piece of plastic wrap, and let it rest for about 15 minutes.


    Now: flour your hands lightly, shape the dough into a ball, and flop it onto a cotton towel which you’ve sprinkled with cornmeal, or bran, or flour (I prefer cornmeal). Sprinkle more cornmeal on top. Fold towel over, or cover with another towel. Kiss it tenderly, and let it rest for at least two hours.


    When you’re ready to bake, put a covered metal pot or saucepan (at least four-quart capacity) in the oven (ungreased) and preheat it to 450 degrees (at least 15 minutes). Take the pot (carefully) out of the oven. Take up your glob of dough (carefully) and plunk it into the sizzling pot. Shake the pot once or twice to smooth out the dough.


    Bake, covered, for 30 minutes at 450 degrees.  Uncover and bake for about 15 minutes more, or until “beautifully brown.” Cool on a rack.




    Thank you, Messrs. Fahey and Bittman.



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