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“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.” 

Sometimes, despite all good intentions, things do go awry. 

On Friday, I had a little luncheon date with two former classmates from nutrition school.  I always look forward to these meetings, since these women (besides sharing the NAG diet philosophy) are invariably funny, witty, and generally loads of fun to be with.  The meeting had been planned for several weeks–before I started the ACD–and I didn’t want to cancel because of a silly little diet.  Besides, I was fairly certain I had all the bases covered, as the restaurant we chose served vegetarian-only Chinese food, with lots of vegan options as well. 

Well, I’m sorry to say, looks like my adherence to this regimen wasn’t as assured as I’d expected.  Rather than ruffle any feathers, I decided to go along with sharing three different dishes from the menu. While the selections were all quite delicious, they were also, unfortunately, bathed in glossy, sweetened, cornstarch-thickened sauces–definitely a no-no on the ACD.  But seriously, how could I disappoint the gals and order plain ole steamed veggies (and not even steamed rice–no white stuff on this regime!) when the intention was to share dishes while we dished the dirt?

Okay, I admit it:  of course they wouldn’t have been disappointed (they could still eat whatever they wanted to); I’m the one who would have been disappointed to pass up the culinary camaraderie. In the end, I caved.  I ate some (rather amazing, actually) lemon-pepper “chicken” with veggies, Singapore noodles (at least they were rice noodles) and roasted veggies in a Portugese curry sauce.  Everything was exemplary, and I managed not to overindulge, but I did feel guilty for the remainder of the day.  I returned to my senses immediately upon returning home, and started all over again.  Now, after more than a week on the diet, I’m back to counting yesterday as “Day One.”  Bummer!

The incident got me thinking about how much I love to eat.  Giving up the singular sensory pleasure of a beloved food’s taste and texture as it inches across your tongue is one feat I find nearly impossible to achieve (and for some reason, it gets even harder to accomplish as I get older).  Compounding the problem, it seems I’ve actually expanded my culinary repertoire and the range of foods I’m willing to consume since I started focusng on a vegan diet.  It may be true that an omnivorous diet contains more potential choices, but since I found so many of those repugnant even when I did eat meat (Ham?  Gross. Chicken wings? Barf. Snails? Vomitorious. SWEETBREADS?? Somebody please get me a paper bag), I would never have tried them, anyway.  And when I ate an animal-focused diet, I tended just to eat the same foods over and over. 

Then, when my health issues reared their ugly heads, I was forced to find alternatives.  I sought out alternative grains, novel sources of protein, seaweeds, fermented foods, soy products, and a plethora of unusual fruits and vegetables, intensely flavored herbs and seasonings.  These days, in fact, I am much more willing to try something entirely unfamiliar when I know it’s vegan and am more creative in the kitchen than I ever was before I began to eat this way. 

Which brings me to the foods I do eat–or, at least, some of them.

You may have noticed the “Hundred” food memes circulating round the blogosphere (The Omnivore’s Hundred, which started the trend; The Vegetarian’s Hundred and The Vegan’s Hundred, which was created by Hannah and has prompted quite the tidal wave of responses among bloggers).  I must say, I was (pleasantly) taken aback to see how many items on this list I have already sampled. (My exact response was something like, “Wow. I sure do eat a lot.”) 

Maybe that’s the problem with the ACD this time round:  I’m painfully aware that there’s a plenitude of foods I love to eat out there, all of which I think of as “healthy.” Consequently, it becomes more and more difficult to steer clear of them (though not, on the other hand, to steer clear of actual steer).

I’m hoping some new inspiration and creativity will magically descend so I can make it through the next few weeks without falling off the ACD wagon again.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy some virtual treats through this list. Do feel free to play along. Thanks for the idea, Hannah–so much fun!

Here’s the basic premise:

1) Copy this list into your own blog, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Post a comment here once you’ve finished and link your post back to this one.
5) Pass it on!

1. Natto (though it is, ironically, “first” on my list of must-try’s)
2. Green Smoothie (shouldn’t everyone try one of these for breakfast at some point?)
3. Tofu Scramble (so many great varieties out there!)
4. Haggis (I ate the veg version–never have tried the “real” stuff!)
5. Mangosteen (unfortunately, wasn’t that impressive)
6. Creme brulee (a favorite of the HH) 
7. Fondue (though I’d never consider double dipping, of course)
8. Marmite/Vegemite
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Nachos (dying to try them with this cheese sauce)
12. Authentic soba noodles
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Taco from a street cart (I think this one will require a trip out of country)
16. Boba Tea
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (I had cloudberry–truly an ambrosial liquid)
19. Gyoza
20. Vanilla ice cream (What? No chocolate on this list??)
21. Heirloom tomatoes (from my first-ever effort to grow them–and the BEST TOMATO I HAVE EVER EATEN)
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Ceviche (again, veg version–the other kind c’est grosse, non?)
24. Rice and beans
25. Knish
26. Raw scotch bonnet pepper (will definitely wake you up in the morning)
27. Dulce de leche [swoon]
28. Caviar (I’ve had actual caviar in the past, but never a vegan version)
29. Baklava
30. Pate (mushroom-walnut is a favorite, but pretty much any veg kind is great)
31. Wasabi peas
32. Chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Mango lassi
34. Sauerkraut (even made my own)
35. Root beer float
36. Mulled cider
37. Scones with buttery spread and jam (No buttery spread these days, but still a favorite breakfast)
38. Vodka jelly
39. Gumbo
40. Fast food french fries (Ah, memories. . . .)
41. Raw Brownies
42. Fresh Garbanzo Beans (these sound amazing)
43. Dahl
44. Homemade Soymilk
45. Wine from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more (that crazy HH!)
46. Stroopwafle
47. Samosas
48. Vegetable Sushi (a favorite weekly lunch)
49. Glazed doughnut
50. Seaweed
51. Prickly pear (just last week! Thanks, Lucy)
52. Umeboshi
53. Tofurkey
54. Sheese
55. Cotton candy
56. Gnocchi (and have tried several times to make my own. . . )
57. Piña colada
58. Birch beer
59. Scrapple
60. Carob chips (not just a substitute for chocolate–quite lovely on their own merit!)
61. S’mores
62. Soy curls
63. Chickpea cutlets
64. Curry
65. Durian
66. Homemade Sausages
67. Churros, elephant ears, or funnel cake
68. Smoked tofu
69. Fried plantain
70. Mochi
71. Gazpacho
72. Warm chocolate chip cookies (really, is there anything better?)
73. Absinthe
74. Corn on the cob
75. Whipped cream, straight from the can (only got one mouthful . . . )
76. Pomegranate
77. Fauxstess Cupcake (still waiting to try that recipe!)
78. Mashed potatoes with gravy
79. Jerky (loved the vegan version–never tried the other)
80. Croissants
81. French onion soup
82. Savory crepes (love these for brunch time. . . )
83. Tings
84. A meal at Candle 79 (I’ll start saving up now and maybe get to go in 2015)
85. Moussaka
86. Sprouted grains or seeds
87. Macaroni and “cheese” (Susan’s is still my favorite recipe)
88. Flowers (though can’t say I enjoyed them)
89. Matzoh ball soup
90. White chocolate
91. Seitan (how I miss you, how I miss you, my dear old Seitan)
92. Kimchi
93. Butterscotch chips
94. Yellow watermelon (but really, what’s the point?)
95. Chili with chocolate (my favorite way to have it)
96. Bagel and Tofutti
97. Potato milk
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Raw cookie dough (better than baked, in my opinion!)

Glancing at the list, I see that there really are advantages to living in Toronto, where all these foods are quite common.  Now, I must seek out all the others, too–well, as soon as this cleanse is over.

For All You Great Cooks. . .

February 14, 2008

I came across the new Great Cooks Blogroll while browsing other food blogs and of course joined up poste haste.  With a quickly-expanding list of food blogs, it’s a great resource.

Jill over at Simple Daily Recipes is the force behind Great Cooks. If you’re interested in great cooking, are a great cook, know one or aspire to be one, it’s definitely worth a look. And if you write a food blog, you’re eligible to join up, too!

Remembrance of Foods Past

January 4, 2008

As our man Marcel so eloquently illustrated, it’s pretty much natural for most of us to be flooded with sensory memories when we inhale the aroma of some beloved or long-forgotten food–images come flooding back as quickly as a montage in a rap video. 

The scent of hot chocolate?  Of course: that was studying for high school metriculations, 1978.  The wafting aroma of eggplant parmesan?  That dinner party with my wacky room mate (ah, yes, the one my friend Ed said had a revolving door in her bedroom) in 1981.  The tingly, acidic rush of champagne bubbles on the nose?  The first New Year’s Eve with my HH, way back when.  Oh, and the next one.  And also our anniversary.  Oh yeah, also my birthday.  And the following New Year’s.  And this past one. . . .

Yes, food certainly elicits memories for most of us.  What’s weird about me, I’ve since discovered (among all the other things) is that the opposite is also true: memories elicit food.  What I mean is, I tend to recall past events according to the food that was present at the time.

Just the other day, my HH and I were discussing how sweet my friend Gemini I is, to always invite us to her cottage for major holidays like New Year’s Eve or Thanksgiving.  “Yeh, too bad we didn’t make it this past year,” my HH remarked. I thought for a moment, then realized we had, indeed, been there. 

“Sure, we were there, don’t you remember,” I said.  “It was the first time my gravy came out perfectly, no lumps. And Gemini II made that amazing Caesar salad in her huge salad bowl on the stand.”  (Okay, it’s true, I didn’t call her “Gemini II,” but I did say the rest of it.)  My HH had no recollection whatsoever of this.  When my HH remembers places or events, he remembers them as normal people do:  according to what happened, or where the place is, or who else was there.

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t recall those types of details as well.  It’s just that, for me, it seems major events are distinguished by the kind of food that was present.

During our first rocky summer together, my HH and I split up twice.  I will forever remember the second split, since we were at a favorite restaurant and ordered, respectively, linguine with seafood, and veggie pizza (before the days I couldn’t eat wheat).  As I sat, tears streaming down my face, my HH shoveled food mechanically into his mouth as a way to stave off the rising emotion at our impending separation.  Back in those days, untrained in how to emote (or even have a discussion with someone who was emoting), my HH seemed unable to utter the simple words, “But I don’t want to break up.”  As a result, I sat there, immobile, crying, but not touching my food. 

After a few minutes, the very solicitous restaurateur approached to inquire whether the food was not to my satisfaction (No, no it’s great, sniffle, I’m just not hungry, whimper whimper, thanks anyway, boo hoo sob sob), and then proceeded to return to the table every five minutes thereafter, sweetly attempting to encourage me to eat–anything–by placing one after the other free dishes on the table before me (I declined on the antipasto, garlic bread, and cheesecake, but did accept the wine–hey, even heartbroken, I’m no fool). 

When I think of that breakup, I always think of the food involved.  (In the end, that’s sort of what brought us back together again:  I wrote about the incident in the newspaper, and after reading it, HH contacted me to give it one more try.  In the end, what I assumed was no more than a several-night stand has endured more than a decade.)

Almost every major event I’ve experienced is somehow associated with an attendant meal, or at the least, a dish.  My ultimate date with my first love, way back during the Me Generation and Excessive Everything, was a phenomenal meal at a Detroit restaurant called The Benchmark (no longer in existence, alas).  A very posh place, far beyond the budget of a sweet, romantic History major trying to impress his girlfriend, they sure did know how to treat a couple. Led to wait for our table at the upstairs bar, we became so engrossed in our conversation (I know, youthful amour can do that to you) that we completely lost track of time and, before we realized it, more than an hour had passed.  When we inquired whether our table was ready, the horrified maitre d’ apologized profusely and offered us a free bottle of champagne as compensation for the time lost. (That brand remains my favorite). 

Later, I remember vividly the most delicious, velvety, slightly pungent and salty Cream of Olive Soup I’ve ever tasted.  Was it the company that made the soup so spectacular?  Or the fact that, as a starry-eyed twenty-something with very little experience in restaurant protocol, I was bowled over by the incredible opulence and extravagant service of the place? Who knows.  But whenever I think of ol’ Spaghetti Ears, that dinner isn’t far behind.

And what can I say, my family is weird.  (Actually, that has nothing to do with food-related memories, just a random factual statement). My sisters and I define memories based on food.  Which birthday was it?  Oh, yes, that’s right, the one with the Bo-Peep birthday cake.  Or remember when The Nurse’s boyfriend managed to quit smoking for a year and we baked him that “Happy Healthy” cake?  For years afterward, all my friends wanted a Happy Healthy when they, too, quit smoking (because in those days, everybody still smoked). 

And speaking of healthy, what about the evening–the first after I’d started on my naturopath-decreed cleansing diet–that I shared a dinner with my friend Mark? We’d actually found a restaurant willing to honor my new restrictions and serve me plain, steamed, organic vegetables and steamed basmati rice–no seasonings, no flare whatsoever.  Mid-meal, I sensed some lightheadedness and attendant dizziness.  Within minutes, the room spun and I wasn’t sure I’d make it home.  It was mid-February, snowy, and visibility was almost nil as I inched my way along the roads, gripping the steering wheel for dear life, moving no faster than 20 km per hour (that’s less than 12.4 mph, my American amigos), desperate to avoid an accident before getting back to my house.  I was so weak by the time I arrived home that my HH actually had to take my shoes off for me, before I collapsed in a heap on the bed and fell into a fitful slumber for 18 hours. My first (and only negative) detox experience.

I’m not sure why I evolved this way; maybe it was the constant parade of homemade foods in our house, the kitchen as the fulcrum of our family life, the genes I inherited from my mother’s side of the family. 

Whatever; I’m hoping I can establish a novel trend in 2008 and begin to associate milestones with healthy food, or–shockers!–nothing to do with food at all.  How about baked sweet potatoes (one of my favorites) linked with our 11th anniversary? Or a great trail-walk with The Girls encapsulated by raw Fig & Cherry Bars (recipe in a future post)? Even better, I’d love to relate significant events to other activities entirely (and no, they don’t have to be “that” kind, you naughty ones!).  Wouldn’t it be great to have strong associations with other things besides food?

Food is great, I love food, and it’s always been at the forefront of most aspects of my life, but I’ve come to learn that’s not the healthiest way to be for me.  Food will always remain a central part of most social events, but maybe in the future, it can be tempered with other important markers as well.  The next time I face a major challenge or triumph, I’d like to be able to connect it with something else, by making a conscious effort to focus on the people, or the place, or the things that contribute to that memory. 

Still, I’ll always have a soft spot for champagne and olive soup.