Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dishing the Dirt From and About NYC's Dirt Candy.

Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy, a fairly new East Village vegetarian restaurant, royally pissed people off and caused a lot of controversy in a couple of interviews of late. I just read both of Little Miss Cohen's interviews, and I now believe that I understand what's going on. There are several facets.

1) She is either not very bright or is a terrible, terrible speaker. Some people get extremely nervous when being interviewed, and maybe she's one of those. But it cannot be denied that she said some things, particularly in the interview, that cannot be forgiven. Specifically, when the interviewer stated that "vegetarian restaurants are always terrible", she responded with the following:

"Always! They’re horrible. Horrible! And you know why? Because they don’t have real cooks. The people who cook there have no culinary background; with this kind of food, you really have to know how to cook."

Really? I mean really? First of all, has this girl eaten at every vegetarian restaurant EVER? Second, has she collected the resumes and CVs of the members of each of their kitchens? Third, you can have all the opinions you want girlie, but don't go badmouthing your fellow business owners and chefs IN PRINT. Bad form in a big way.

2) She is not a vegetarian (eats fish), obviously hates vegan food, doesn't understand why vegans are vegan, and has little to no intention of providing food for us. As she told Gothamist, "...they’re vegan. And that’s not the way I like to eat. I like cheese and dairy." Clear enough to me.

3) Her restaurant is for vegetarians and omnis, not for vegans. From the interview, "You know, we definitely use cream, we use butter in the [portobello mousse] dish. So it's like 'Ooh! I’m eating something that’s so dense and heavy and fattening but it’s so good.' And that’s not something you get in a lot of vegetarian [read: vegan] food, particularly because they don’t use dairy." Uh, ok, sure. Apparently Miss Cohen has never heard of a mysterious substance called avocado?

Since she openly states that she thinks all of her best dishes are those made with dairy and eggs, why would I go to this restaurant? Particularly when there are, I dunno, a gajillion restaurants within a stone's throw from her place that have awesome food for me, why in the world would I give this woman my money?

Simply put, I won't.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A special message from the Food District Administration.

This young lady is my new favorite person EVER (that I've never met), and she'd like to speak with you about what she learned in school today... about Jell-o.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Marshmallows: the great scandal, the glorious triumph.


OK, so I'm a little behind on this one. Like, a year and a half (or so) late-ish. But I still say better late than never, and maybe it will come as news to you like it did to me. And if it weren't for good old SuperVegan, I still wouldn't know. (Thanks guys.) Now, don't get me wrong - I've known for ages that marshmallows have gelatin (can you say cartilage?) in them, and are therefore not vegetarian. What I didn't know is that a) there was a kosher-related scandal, and that b) vegan marshmallows were dragged down by trickery... Intrigued? Check it out - mainstream media coverage, no less! Behold. (And be warned - there are two parts.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Me, and my, faaaaat ass, limping down the avenue - week two.

It's been a very up-and-down kind of week. On Monday, a work holiday for yours truly, I took advantage of the freedom despite the chill and snow and walked from 34th st and 1st avenue to the Met - 5th avenue at 81st. It was a good jaunt, a nice way to start off the week. Starting off on the right foot, as it were, ha ha. Then I hung out in the Temple of Dendur, looking at the snow in Central Park from the warmth of an Egyptian temple. Great light in there.

And why was I on 34th st? Because I finally got around to seeing my doc, whom I hadn't had a visit with in over a year. A bad idea, my friends, when you're a girl like me, to miss your checkups. But I couldn't afford it when I was sans insurance - I like him a lot, and since he specializes in fibromyalgia he gets it. He doesn't ask stupid questions or tell me "that doesn't hurt" or want to check my thyroid repeatedly like some other doctors I've been to. But, also because he specializes, he's very expensive. So it goes.

So I got in to the doc finally, got a B12 shot for good measure, and we're running some standard bloodwork. I don't particularly think anything is wrong, but isn't it nice to know? He didn't seem terribly concerned about my weight gain; just looking at me in street clothes it's not that noticeable. I'm wearing it better than the last time I put on almost this much, in my mid twenties. So at least I have that to cling to, even if I still can't button my pants.

So that was Monday. Tuesday it was back to work, with an unexpected and pleasant respite to watch the inauguration of our new president. A few people cried. It was interesting to see that, even in a conservative-type environment like a law firm, people are seriously ready to see a change of administration. At the end of the day I took the Q101 across the bridge to avoid the harsh winds off the water (it was well below freezing), and then walked from Queens Plaza to home, about a 25 minute jaunt. So the week was going quite well in terms of the whole exercise thing.

Wednesday, I went out to dinner with my bestest friend who I haven't gotten to hang out with in a while. Going out to dinner while on a diet is a dicey proposition, but I think I did alright: had a small bowl of broth-based soup and an appetizer. Cheaper to dine out that way anyway.

And then, Thursday, tragedy. It all began on Tuesday, really, as a whisper. Wednesday it had grown to a murmur, but one that I was still ignoring. But in my sleep from Wednesday night into Thursday morning, the murmur worked itself all the way up into a roar. The irritation that had been growing in my right foot reached up into my calf and gave a little tug, sending it into full spasm. When I tried to get up for work, I realized that we'd achieved a full blown protest. I made Jonathan get out of bed early to go to the store for an ace bandage, and spent the rest of the day hobbling around at a third of my normal pace.

New York is not a pleasant place to be when even slightly disabled; I honestly have no idea how people in wheelchairs ever leave the house. Getting to work was hellish. Being at work was hellish. All day fuzzy, frustrated, in pain; limping around without a proper explanation for why. I was making up stories about getting in fights with ninja gangs; it's easier than trying to explain fibro to someone who's never heard of it. By four p.m. I was beyond tired, and still had to last at work till 6:15 and then make it to my Thursday evening appointment.

I hate days like that one, but no matter how well I take care of myself they will happen. That, actually, is precisely why I hate them. Uncontrollable, unpredictable, unexplainable, unstoppable. So yes, the control freak's actual definition of hell.

Well I got through Thursday, and by Friday I could mostly walk again. It still hurt, but I could move much more normally and closer to a comfortable speed. Friday night Jon and I went out to eat with a bunch of kiddies that I now work with at a vastly overpriced Indian place in midtown; I'm sure I ate too much, but it didn't get too crazy.

By Saturday, to my enormous relief, the pain in my appendage was down to a moderate soreness. I had been afraid that it was beyond a localized flare-up; that something was actually structurally damaged somehow. Despite the fact that there'd been no injury, no accident. But anyway. It seems now that I'll be able to get back to my walking next week; I really hope so. I want to go walking today; the sky is blue despite the freezing temperatures. But I don't think it would be wise.

With the pain and frustration and the eating out, I definitely blew my calories several times in these seven days. But unless I'm hugely underestimating my out-to-dinner calories (and I'm guessing pretty damn high), I don't think I got too out of range. Definitely past my allotted 1600, but not past what would be a normal non-diet healthy amount of 2000 or so.

So yeah, it's been a tough week, but it seems that I'm at least still heading in the right direction:

1/11/9: 185
1/18/9: 183.2
1/25/9: 181.8

And, as always, we carry on.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

As predicted.

I supposed I had a pretty good run, for my standards. It was, after all, nine straight days of increased activity before a portion of my body decided to rebel. It's not as if I overdid it; I've done that many times in the past, but not this time. But regardless, alas, and really unsurprisingly, my right foot/ankle/calf has taken a stand.

You see, it's had about all it's gonna take with this increased walking nonsense, and is now boycotting any and all load-bearing duties until further notice. Complaints began Tuesday, and as such were not heeded, a full action was deemed warranted. Specifically, not only must all extra activity be eliminated, but the everyday walks which had previously been standard (such as from the subway to my office) must cease and desist immediately. Any and all infringement upon said boycott will result in punishment for the transgressor (uh, me) ranging from mild discomforting ache to intense shooting pain, punishment to be determined instantly at time of transgression.


I have to go in to work late today. Because going in at my normal work time means very crowded trains means no seats, and I can't really stand for the 20 minute commute. Often, I circumvent this issue by taking a fifteen to twenty minute walk north and just getting on at the end of the line, where there are seats galore. However, since the issue here is not being able to put weight on my right leg, the extra walk is kinda out of the question. So I'm waiting till 9:30 to leave the house, hoping that that will lead to less crowded trains. Then, once in the city, I'll have to transfer to the 6 train to take it one stupid stop south, instead of just walking the ten blocks from 60th like I usually do.

And this, my friends, is why my diet revolves primarily around reduction of calories rather than increase in exercise. My body cannot be trusted, does not play ball - for that matter, some days it won't even walk from the car to the ball field. So it goes. With frustration, we struggle on.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The 'me and my fat ass' diet, week one.

Hello all. One week down, many to go - but one week down, and a successful one at that. It seems like a good time to lay out some of my plans and goals. It goes something like this.

I'm aiming to eat about 1600 calories a day. I go a little over, it's not a crisis, but I'm aiming for that number. If I'm under, well that's good - as long as I'm not drastically under, because then I'll either be hungry or malnourished or both. This calorie count will let me create a calorie deficit of around 500 calories a day. If you crunch all the numbers, this ultimately leads to burning about one pound worth of calories (from body fat) a week. A slow rate of loss to be sure, but a healthy and sustainable one. And isn't that the point?

Of course, reducing the number of calories I eat isn't the whole picture. It can't be. But I'm fighting some forces that I can't control, such as winter weather in New York and my own unpredictable body. My goal and hope is to walk to work or make some other long walk at least three times a week. Whether or not I'll be able to do so - well, I'll just take that as it comes. If I can do more, I will. I'm also doing a little bit of work with (very) light weights at home - it seems that I've grown quite weak. And of course I'm thinking about starting up with my yoga again - it makes perfect sense for flexibility, strength, relaxation, and really all kinds of good stuff.

This, however, is a classic trap that I set for myself. I decided that I MUST do such-and-such physical activity on these days, and then I find myself a giant stone tablet and chisel it on in there. And inevitably a thunderstorm or a flared up knee with throw it all off, and then I don't know how to recover, and everything gets thrown out the window because I'm too married to my plan. So understand. It's not that I don't recognize the importance of exercise as a counterpoint to the change in eating habits; it's simply that I am finally, finally, finally allowing for some flexibility for my unreliable abilities.

Now, about how I'm getting to this 1600 calories. Ideally it happens through five small meals spread throughout the day, and in the first week I've managed to do that for the most part. But it also allows for some flexibility - with a food addict like me there has to be some wiggle room.

Breakfast is always the same: I have half a cup of a whole grain multi-grain cereal, made of something not predominately wheat and relatively low in sugar, with half a cup of almond milk. (A favorite cereal is Barbara's Shredded Spoonfuls; I also like Oaty Bites but I can't find them lately.) I also have the all-important cup of coffee. Because you know what? With the possible exception of pregnant women, one cuppa never hurt nobody. Grand total for breakfast: 160 calories.

That small breakfast leaves room for a mid-morning snack, which is essential because I can never make it to the pre-ordained work-sanctioned lunchtime. For this snack I have a vanilla yogurt (Whole Soy & Co) at 150 calories, or a granola bar for around 180.

For lunch this week I was extremely good, and brought food every single day. I had three things that I had cooked large meals of and then portioned out into 400 calorie servings: buckwheat soba noodles with mushrooms and broccoli, my famous tofu salad with crackers, and three bean chilli with corn and soymeat. (OK, fine, so Jonathan made the chilli. Thanks baby, it was awesome.)

This means that by the time I get home from work between 5:30 and 6, I've had about half my calories for the day. And so I have another small meal immediately upon arriving, and then either one more or two small things around 8 or 8:30.

As far as exercise goes, this week I managed to walk to work on Monday, walk from my apartment to my studio and then two hours later from my studio back to my apartment on Tuesday, and on Saturday we walked to the local movie theater and back home. I also dabbled in my (very) light weights.

And so, Sunday morning weight 1/18/9: 183.2

So yes, week one we will count as a success. Whether or not the above number actually represents a loss, I can't say; what I'm really excited about is that I stuck with the program.

Keep your fingers for week two.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Me, my marginally wider ass, and what we've decided to do about it.

As I've mentioned in other blogs and possibly here as well, I managed to gain a substantial amount of weight during my summer of unemployment. This, of course, defies all logic. I had all the time in the world to exercise, prepare proper meals, and research calories and meal options... and yet. What we have to take into account is that a) I have a severe lazy streak, b) my body works against me in these things, and c) I hit a bone-crushing depression, during which I ate like a madwoman.

I knew something had gone terribly wrong when I started trying to go out for interviews; none of the clothes that I'd been wearing comfortably just a few months previously fit any more. I didn't own a scale, but the fact that I couldn't button my pants told me all I really needed to know.

Well, in October I finally started back to work. And... things got worse. I was eating whatever I could get my hands on come lunchtime, and come dinnertime for that matter. And what with the stress, didn't I deserve a little chocolate or ice cream (or both) come the end of the day? The severity of the matter came into focus in December, when I tried to get dressed for a holiday party. Not a single one of my dresses fit anymore. I managed to not very comfortably get into one - one that used to be way too big.

When we returned from vacation in early January I bought a scale and confirmed what I had feared: I am now heavier than I have ever been. But it's not really about poundage. It's of course partly about how I look and feel about myself, and about whether or not I can wear my clothes - I can't exactly afford to go replace my whole wardrobe. But more than any of that, it's about health. With my chronic issues, every extra pound means that my body has to work that much harder just to perform normal tasks. Every book I've ever read on my disease tells me that if I have any extra weight, the first order of business is to get rid of it.

So OK. I've been down this road before, battling anywhere from ten to twenty-something extra pounds for the past two decades. But I never do it right. I always either ignore it entirely or go completely gung-ho over the edge. Neither of these approaches work in the least. I'm determined to make this time different.

This, of course, is not the first time I've said that either. But I really think this time it will be different. I've got my head on my shoulders about it. I'm not all full of self loathing and disgust like I used to be. I'm not trying to keep myself down to a thousand calories or any such suicidal thing. I've got reasonable goals... and I'm going to share them with you. Ain't that grand? I'll check in on Sundays with my minor triumphs, failures, and struggles of the week that's passed, as well as an update on weight. Weight is not the end all be all, lord knows, but it is nice and tangible - quantifiable, as it were.

And so, as of 1/11/9: 185 lbs.

Wish me luck duckies. Here we go.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Vegan in New Orleans, and other traveling mysteries: installment one.

It's terrible, the way I've neglected you. I won't try to make excuses, explain away my actions or lack thereof. I will only say how deeply I regret the time we've lost together. But alas, no use crying over spilt silk. I'm here to tell you about my travels, and possibly most importantly, what I ate as I traveled down the east side of our continent and back up again.

Our trip began on Christmas morning, calling the car service at approximately 5:45 am - far too early to eat or drink. The flight to Raleigh-Durham, on Jet Blue (which I love except for the dead cow seats that they're oh so proud of) involved little to no foodstuffs - there may have been some potato chips. And so, upon arriving at the small airport, the first order of business was COFFEE. I hadn't had any yet, and I wasn't about tho think about driving the four or so hours to Jonathan's parents' house in Virginia without a proper amount of caffeine in my system.

Luckily, thankfully, blissfully, the airport had a Fourbucks. Now, in general I hate starbucks. For all of the obvious reasons - the lack of fair trade, the high prices, the ridiculous amounts of fat and sugar and additives in most of their "specialty" drinks. But their one redeeming factor is that no matter where you are in the country, if you can find a Starbucks you've got yourself a soy latte. Ahh, the sweet saving grace that is a soy latte, how would I live without it.

Properly caffeinated, we made our way up, up, up into the Blue Ridge mountains. His parents live far out, up and away from what we like to call "civilization" - we're talking no cell phone reception people. They, in fact, live near a large Amish community that has sprung up in the last few years, overflow down from Pennsylvania. The one main benefit of having them as neighbors is the Nature's Way grocery just up the hill, which sells all manner of, well, Amish food. Jams and jellies, jarred fruits and vegetables, pastas, beans, cereal, the best damn spiced peaches and marinated mushrooms you ever had, and for reasons we'll never be sure of almond and soy milk. Do we shop up the road at Nature's Way, rather than drive the 40 minutes "into town" to shop at the Kroger? Well yes, yes we do.

I'm not going to talk a whole lot about our five days up in the mountains; meal wise it was fairly uneventful. Jonathan's parents do some gardening that's really more like small scale farming, and whatever they can't eat fresh they freeze or can or jar or pickle, so we as usual got to eat plenty of things that they had grown themselves which is awesome. Furthermore, his mother (the cook) 'gets it', and goes out of her way not to put butter on the potatoes or ham hock in the black beans - double plus awesome. We eat hearty, simple meals at the mountain cabin. Jon's dad even requested that I make my tofu lasagna while we were there, quite a surprise, so of course I did. I made tomato sauce using tomatoes that Miss Judy had jarred last summer - does it get any better than that?

We had originally thought that we would fly from Virginia down to New Orleans for Parental Visit Two, but when we went to book we discovered that every single flight from anywhere in the area got routed back through JFK - and most had a layover there. Well, we just couldn't stand the thought of basically going back to NY only to leave again, so we said screw it. We'll take a day to ourselves and have a little road trip. We took supplies with us from the Amish store: mustard pretzels, sesame sticks, their version of corn nuts, and dark chocolate covered peanuts - vegan as the day is long, oh yes, and gooood. Freakin' love those things.

We drove through a series of really prize states, places that just adore veganism: North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. Oh yes, choices on places to eat were just boundless. Well, we made a stop at Cracker Barrel, because you just have to, and made very careful selections from their menu of sides. They at least tell you what crazy things they put lard in (like their corn muffins).

The second stop, made at a gas station, offered up sandwiches at a Blimpie. Much like the sandwiches that you get at Subway, it was salad on bread - typical vegetables plus pickles and banana peppers. Ahh, road food - you do whatcha gotta. Driving into NO, it was so odd to feel relieved seeing signs for Slidell... my friends from down south will understand that sentiment.

Now, to the meat of the subject (ha ha): eating vegan in New Orleans. The fact is that you can be vegan anywhere that there's a grocery store; the city you live in just determines how much you can go out to eat. This is the south, and there are definitely a good number of restaurants here that don't sell a single edible item. They make their red sauce with beef stock and you'll find chunks of ham fat in the green beans. And let's just say one thing up front: there is not a single all-vegetarian restaurant in New Orleans - not even a vegetarian-but-we-have-fish. But. You can eat here, and well, and often, if you know where to go. For any of my vegan brethren who may find themselves in the situation of trying to eat vegan in this odd little curve of a town, I present to you the following information.

Mona's Cafe.
Mona's is, in my opinion the best middle eastern food anywhere. Sure, we can get all manner of hummus and falafel in New York, but my palette for this ethnicity was set at Mona's and to me no one else's babaganouj tastes right. There are now three Mona's locations for your dining pleasure, spread conveniently around the city. I'd give you a link to their website except that they don't have one. The original restaurant on Banks street, mid city just below Carrolton, began its life as a gas station. At one point not so long ago, but before the storm, it burned down - but they rebuilt it, much to the joy of its faithful followers. I ate there with my sister (and my man of course) on our first real day in town. Another cool bonus of the Banks Street location is that attached to the restaurant is a little grocery. This isn't quite as exciting as it used to be now that I've lived in Astoria for a few years, but it's still cool and I'm happy that they're continuing to do well. The other locations are 1) in the French Quarter/Fauburg area at the corner of Decatur and Frenchman, and 2) on Carrolton in the Riverbend just toward the river from Oak Street. Go there. Get the babaganouj and the falafel and the veg grape leaves. Don't tell me about how that's too much food. Just do it. Oh, and the red lentil soup is excellent as well...

Bankok Thai.
Same neighborhood as the Riverbend Mona's, really just down the street, is Bangkok Thai. It's next door to Cooter Brown's, but we can't really blame them for that now can we? It's, well, a Thai place. And I like it. They apparently changed hands after the storm, but there doesn't seem to be any significant difference in the food or service. The atmosphere is humble, but the food is good. The house pad thai with vegetables is quite pleasing, with chunks of fried tofu and lots of nice veggies, and just a hint of yellow curry to tinge and flavor the noodles. There are many options on the menu that can be vegan; choose the "vegetables" option and make sure it doesn't usually come with egg, and you're pretty much good to go.

Juan's Flying Burrito.
Juan's has two locations, but if you want to actually have your food served to you within an hour of ordering it (or, for that matter, at all), you should probably shun the Magazine Street Garden District location in favor of the Mid City spot at the corner of Canal and Carrolton. Service there will still be bad - just not nearly as bad. It'll all be alright though once you get your food, because it's freakin' good and there is a whole lot of it. Many of their dishes do not feature meat (such as the bean burrito, the build your own tacos, the supergreen burrito, and the veggie punk burrito - my personal favorite), and they're pretty good about leaving the dairy out. They haven't quite progressed to having vegan cheese or sour cream, or tofu, but I like to believe that they'll get there one day. They also make a tasty guacamole and a mean margarita.

Sake Cafe, Wasabi, and Ninja.
Japanese is pretty much always a good option, what with seaweed salad, veg tempora, and any number of vegetable rolls that can be on offer. As far as their miso being clean (sans fish broth or benito), I haven't been to any of these recently so I would ask your server before ordering. The first and last are uptown but on opposite ends - Sake Cafe is in uptown proper but nearing the Garden District, at the corner of Magazine Street and Washington; Ninja is almost to the river on Oak Street in Riverbend - maybe after dinner you can stop by the Maple Leaf. (Rebirth plays on Wednesdays.) Wasabi is in the Fauburg / Marigny, at the corner of Frenchman and Burgundy (not pronounced like the color / wine - stress on the second syllable, please).

Pho Tau Bay.
Unfortunately, you will now have to travel to the Westbank to get the best Vietnamese food in the country - the shops in Fat City and on Carrolton shut down after the storm due to copious damage. But that's ok, because at least there's still the one locaiton, and that one's booming. All you gotta do to get there is take the bridge and then go three exits into the Wank (or, to some, the Best Bank), to Stumpf. Get off and go straight, but get into the right lane. It'll be on your righthand side in a big parking lot. And it's so, so, so, so worth it. This journey alone with validate your rental car. There is plenty of meat on the menu, but there are plenty of vegetarian options too. I suggest... any of them, as long as you also get the spring rolls - they're the kind wrapped in the stretchy rice paper stuff, and they're full of fried tofu and noodles and thai basil and goodness, and served with the most wonderful peanut sauce this side of the Pacific. Aw man, now I wanna go back there.

Alright, enough for now. I'm starving, and more convinced than ever that it in fact is possible to be a happy vegan in New Orleans - something I could never quite convince myself of when I lived there. Until next time, this is BoBo the Wonder Puppy, saying, don't forget to eat your vegetables!