Sunday, January 24, 2016

The vegetarian's plight

It has been over 14 years since I stopped eating meat. You'd think by now, I'd have figured out a suitably concise way to describe my eating habits to others, but no. After all this time, I still struggle to find the correct word for me when it comes to what I eat.

Usually I just call myself a vegetarian, but that term has so many meanings for different people that it really doesn't explain anything at all. When I introduce myself as a vegetarian, it inevitably launches a game of 20 Questions. "Do you eat fish?" No. "Do you eat eggs?" Yes. "Do you drink milk?" No, but that's a personal preference, and I do eat foods that contain dairy products. And for some reason, because being vegetarian apparently implies a whole lifestyle of rigorous healthy choices, I almost always get asked "Do you eat gluten?" The answer is yes. You can pry my gluten from my cold dead hands.

But back to the point. It has always bothered me a little to say I'm vegetarian when my diet, in fact, includes some items that are not strictly vegetative. Ovo-lacto-vegetarian is the most technically correct term for someone of my dietary persuasion...but just try using that word in a crowd of loutish meat-eaters and see how far you get.

I have tried sometimes, instead of trying to find a word that describes everything I do eat, to simply describe what I don't eat: meat. But then inevitably someone will assume that fish isn't meat. I blame Catholic Lenten practices for this ludicrous distinction. According to Webster, meat is "The flesh of an animal used as food" – clearly including fish – but nonetheless, to many people, being vegetarian is synonymous with being pescatarian. 

So sometimes, in an attempt to take into account this non-standard but common definition of meat, I say, "I don't eat animals." I'd think that would be pretty cut-and-dried, but, believe it or not, one time I told this to a woman in the seafood line at the state fair, and she exclaimed (with equal parts revulsion and bafflement, in the manner of someone who thinks you're a complete idiot), "Fish aren't animals!"

Allow me to be a tad condescending while I remark that that the state fair is probably not the best place to go looking for a highly evolved stance on interspecies justice, but one could at least expect a rudimentary knowledge of taxonomy.

Although I am sure that none of my enlightened regular readers need this lesson, for the sake of this self-righteous nincompoop, to whom the following paragraph is addressed, allow me to set the record straight.

All living things can be divided into categories. There have been many different classification systems over the ages, but never, in any of them, have fish been classified outside of the Animals group. Here's a chart that pretty much lays it out for you. If you are unable to read a flowchart, then you really are a hopeless case.

Phew, that feels good! By the way, this exchange at the state fair happened over a year ago, in August of 2014. I had to walk away because I didn't have time to school the woman in question on phylogeny, nor did I think she would listen. But it's been weighing on me ever since. I am glad I posted this, so the next time someone dares to tell me a fish isn't an animal, I'll give 'em a piece of my taxonomic tree!

Also, by venting all my frustrations into this (yet another excessively long) blog post, I've learned something valuable: No matter how clearly you express something, your efforts are wasted if your audience has the education of a toddler ... a different frame of reference. In other words, you can't please everyone.

But you can please yourself! And for me, after considering all the alternatives, I realize that the simplest and most accurate way to describe my eating habits is to say I'm an ovo-lacto-vegetarian. Sure, it will probably confuse 80% of the people who hear it, but at least it can be explained without getting into arguments that can only be resolved with a dictionary or a flowchart. Bring on the loutish meat-eaters!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The perils of being indecisive

In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there is a scene in which the heroes must, as the gnarly old bridgekeeper puts it, "Answer me these questions three," before they may be permitted to cross a certain gorge.

The questions are, for the most part, absurdly easy: "What is your name?" "What is your quest?" and "What is your favorite color?" Which is why it's funny when one of the heroes changes his mind about his favorite color mid-answer, and consequently gets tossed unceremoniously into the abyss by an invisible hand.

Funny to anyone but me. Were I to be the one crossing the misty chasm in that film, and assuming I were not asked a question about the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow (the answer is to confuse the asker with more questions!), I would be the one to utter the dreaded "I don't know that!" and thusly meet my demise.

I am deathly indecisive about my favorite color. It has changed 6 times over the course of my life—currently it's usually green, but even that can vary depending on my mood and the context.

When you get right down to it, I'm dangerously unopinionated about pretty much everything—which is a cause of great anxiety when it comes to me and the Internet. I won't even begin to talk about my struggles to complete online personality tests (which I adore in spite of my fickle personality traits); I will jump right into a matter of much greater import: login credentials.
When websites ask you to create a couple of security questions in case you forget your password, I am often at a loss, because all the questions want to know your favorites. What is your favorite book? Don't have one. What is your favorite movie? Don't have one. What is the name of your best friend? Well, that, like my favorite color, has changed at least 6 times over the course of my life, too. What if it changes again between now and the next time I have to answer this question?

There is only one thing permanent in this life, and that is the past. When I am allowed to write my own custom question, I use the past shamelessly. I frequently refer to one of the many nicknames of my childhood pets, because – even though I'm linking you right to a post about them (surely security at its worst), there are so many more that no one (except maybe my brother) could possibly guess the correct answer!

So maybe, if websites were to start writing security questions like, "What was your favorite color the week that you started college?" (The answer is lavender), then I could feel secure in my security question. But until then, the best answer I can usually manage is "I don't know that!"

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Savory Sweets white macadamia nut cookie

Before heading home from my Christmas visit to Ohio, I stopped at the Meijer gas station convenience store to gather provisions for my journey. I bought cashews and a Diet Doctor Pepper because they'd be easy to consume while driving, and a Giant Cookie because that's what I do.

It was very soft, I confirmed before I even left the store. And when I ate it, it kind of crumbled apart in my mouth...but not in my hand, so its texture was pleasant overall. The white chocolate bit was good and firm (unlike the chocolate chunks of the La Madeleine cookie), so I was quite pleased by the mouth feel of the cookie.

Likewise, the flavor was enjoyable, kind of rich, with a nice mix of salty and sweet

Actually, I was surprised to note that this lowly shrink-wrapped gas station cookie was quite comparable to a Cosi white chocolate cookie, except that this one actually had macadamia nuts. Which, if you don't recall, are an ingredient that used to be in Cosi's white chocolate cookies until they rudely switched to walnut and lost a good deal of my love in the process.

Sadly, I lost or never received the receipt for this purchase, so I'll never know how this gas station cookie compares in value, but I enjoyed it enough to be quite enthusiastic about giving it another try.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 5 out of 5 stars
Texture: 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 4, 2016

La Madeleine chocolate chunk cookie

Although I brought this cookie on vacation with me, I actually purchased it a few days before vacation, while breakfasting at La Madeleine. I wasn't sure if I even really wanted a Giant Cookie, but I was drawn to its lopsided shape (the others for sale were not so deformed; this little guy was a special anomaly), so I bought it and packed it in case of a dessert shortage while traveling.

I ate it the day after I returned home, and concluded it would have been much better as emergency rations.

It felt kind of dry and cakey, and possessed little flavor.

The soft center was good, and there were plenty of chocolate chunks, but they were a bit too soft. There wasn't enough variation between them and the rest of the cookie to appease my palate.

For this mediocre-in-every-way cookie, I paid 1.99$, or 1.76¢ per gram—an average price for an average cookie.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 2 out of 5 stars
Texture: 2 out of 5 stars
Price: 3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Down Thyme Café Monster cookie

I got a little carried away and started eating the cookie
before I started photographing it.
Vacation time is typically, for me, also Giant Cookie time. I'm always on the lookout for new Giant Cookies I haven't tried yet, and where better to do that than far away from home? But also, vacation is a time when I never know what or when I will be eating, and Giant Cookies are the perfect (nonperishable, usually durable, and delicious) treat to keep in reserve for a moment of need. Of course, vacation time is also a time when I get fed a lot of desserts, so the moment of need rarely arises.

My last trip to Ohio for Christmas yielded 3 Giant Cookies, the first of which I shall now review: the monster cookie from Down Thyme Café in Fremont. At Down Thyme Café, my boyfriend outdid himself, buying 3 desserts for the whole table, so the Giant Cookie that I espied and hoarded for myself went uneaten until the night we returned to Maryland.

The inside was exceptionally hollow, consisting of basically air, chocolate chips, and M&Ms, making for a quite candy-heavy cookie. Which I don't object to in the least. Between the multitudinous M&M's were plenty of oats and still-doughy dough, which I'm pretty sure had a peanut butter flavor.

In short, this cookie contained all my favorite ingredients in great abundance, making me quite a happy cookie reviewer!

I give the cookie five stars all around, except, of course, in price, which, at 2.08¢ a gram, was just a bit above average.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 5 out of 5 stars
Texture: 5 out of 5 stars
Price: 2 out of 5 stars

Friday, December 11, 2015

NuVegan Café Macaroni and "Cheese"

I know I swore off macaroni reviewing, but today I want to break my silence and give a shout-out to my neighborhood NuVegan Café for really doing vegan macaroni right.

If you've ever eaten vegan cheese, you know it's a poor substitute for dairy-based cheese—usually squishy, slimy, and relatively flavorless. If given the choice of never eating cheese again or substituting vegan cheese for the rest of my life, I would choose to give cheese up. 

However, the vegan macaroni from NuVegan does not gross me out the way most vegan cheesy dishes do (in spite of its somewhat questionable appearance). The cheese, instead of being a stringy ooze, is crumbly and subtle. There's even a browned top layer with bits of parsley!

Another problem I have with vegan food is it is disproportionately high in onion content (onions being top on the list of foods I don't eat). For some reason, chefs seem to think, "If we can't have meat, and we can't have cheese, we must make up for it with more flavor! What's the most flavorful vegetable I can add to this dish? Onion!" However, in the case of the NuVegan macaroni, the extra flavor seems to come in the form of some kind of spice (maybe paprika?). Which is both interesting and not too painful (a common problem with spices).

I have been wrong about onion content before. I usually learn of my error a few minutes later when I start to feel really yucky after eating), but so far I have not had any adverse reaction to the NuVegan macaroni. It was a little mushy and I probably ate too much, but on the whole, it is hands-down the best vegan "cheese" dish I've ever eaten.

Cheese and onions are the two biggest obstacles between me and a vegan lifestyle. I'm not saying I'm about to jump on the vegan bandwagon, but if I'm ever ready to take a step in a more compassionate direction, I think I would start by removing mac & (dairy) cheese from my diet and replacing it with the dish from NuVegan Café!

I rate this macaroni...
One happy noodle for being the only vegan macaroni that every made me a happy noodle!

1 happy noodle

The Mood Noodle rating system is not based on a fixed scale, but is a much more subjective system based on what makes me happy and what makes me sad.
Any number of happy noodles and comparatively few sad noodles constitute a good rating.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bad Dog x 2

Behind that endearing face...
My boyfriend doesn't have a great track record of pleasing me when it comes to dogs. This time, he (bless his heart, don't strangle him, don't strangle him!) decided to adopt a rescue dog just a few weeks after we moved into our apartment. I had strong objections and tried to encourage him to wait until we were settled in a house again, but he ignored me.

Actually, it was a little amusing, because he kept trying to go to shelters to look at potential adoptees without me catching on. We were out on a shopping trip with a couple of friends when he started driving to this unknown location. "Where are we going?" we asked him. "Oh, there's just this thing I want to see." Turns out it was a pet store holding a dog adoption event. A week later, it was...He: "I have to go somewhere." Me: "Where?" He:"Just going somewhere with my mom." Me:"You're going to the animal shelter again, aren't you!" He:"..."

Well, despite my disapproval, he went anyway. And despite being told by the adoption agency that the dog in question (which he found online, making this into one of those bad Internet dating stories) doesn't like being alone, he decided it would be the perfect pet to spend 8 hours every day in an empty home. And despite knowing that the dog was used to being kept outdoors and wasn't well house trained, he was confident that he could teach the old dog new my home. Are we having deja vu yet?.

He planned to give the dog to his mom eventually, but our shared apartment was to be the training grounds where the beast (we'll call him Bubalou, because that's his name, as given by his previous owner) was to learn basic social skills (in the meantime, Jack Jack was relinquished to his mom temporarily since I did draw the line at one dog per household).

When he first arrived in our apartment, I had to admit he was cute. He was a puffball of fur and energy, and he had an adorable face with a wide-open smile.

Bubalou in his favorite position: Standing behind his favorite person. You can catch a glimpse of our housemate's dog hiding back there as well.
As soon as he was set loose, he began running around the place, panting, sniffing everything...and trotting into the kitchen to pee on the washing machine.

This uncivil first impression would have been bad enough on its own, but the substance that the dog emitted was like no urine I'd ever seen. It was brown. And it reeked to high heaven of something resembling mushrooms. I was so confused, I wasn't even sure he'd actually peed. But within a few minutes, he had done it again on the door to my bedroom. And within a few minutes more, he had vomited on the floor from overexcitement.

If I hadn't been certain before, I knew now that getting this dog had been a very bad idea.

The next day, while I went to work, Al stayed home to help the dog acclimate to his new environment, during which time he apparently imprinted on Al, becoming so attached that from that point on, he could not be out of Al's presence.

Staring adoringly at his true love

The next few days, we kept him in Jack Jack's crate (too small for him), from which he sprayed his urine all over the surrounding floor. After that, Al put an old shower curtain under the crate to protect the floor. Bubalou, in his fierce anxiety, managed to claw the shower curtain into the crate, and proceeded to chew it to pieces. Then Al purchased a heavy-duty tarp, which met the same fate. The neighbors left a note on our door claiming that our dog had been barking for hours, and could we please do something about it. I began to fear we would be evicted.

Meanwhile, Al took Bubalou to the vet, where we learned that he had a stone in his bladder the size of a marble, which explained the constant urination and brown color (old blood). To treat the urinary stone, Bubalou would have to be on a special, acidifying, diuretic dog food and not allowed to eat anything else until the stone had dissolved, which could take months. Let's read that again. Months. On a diuretic. This dog was destined to be peeing on an hourly basis for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately for me, when I first had the inkling that we might have to be moving into an apartment, I had made a deal with my boyfriend that if he wanted to bring his problem dog Jack Jack (who's actually a little angel compared to Bubalou) with us, instead of making him stay with his parents, he would have to be solely responsible for taking the dog out to go to the bathroom. And the same rules would apply regardless of who the dog was. So when Bubalou gets his midnight urges to empty his bladder, guess who has to crawl out of bed, put on his shoes and coat, grab his keys, and walk out to relieve the dog? Not me! That doesn't mean I enjoy getting woken up in the middle of every night (because I still do; it's kind of hard to ignore a frantic dog walking all over you); it's just a small consolation that things could be worse.

And at least I'm not bearing the financial burden of this dog. As soon as I learned about the bladder stone, I told Al this dog was way more than he had signed up for, and there would be no shame in returning him to the rescue home. After all, I had already decided that an apartment was no place even for a rabbit (let alone an incontinent anxiety-prone dog) and I had given Hansel up to a rescue family (that's right; the rabbit is gone).

But Al was more stubborn; he felt a sense of duty; and he has not yet learned the joys of spending a whole month's income on an ungrateful pet. But he will. The initial vet bill, even after pet insurance, was over 500 dollars.  His teeth need a deep cleaning, which will require anesthesia and big bucks. After the note from the neighbors, Al was forced to put Bubalou into doggy day care, for 35 dollars a day. The prescription dog food is 40 dollars a bag and lasts about 3 weeks. To help Bubalou overcome his separation anxiety and get properly toilet trained, Al had to hire a dog behaviorist at a cost of over a thousand dollars.

Al also invested in some stylish doggy diapers to keep Bubalou from flooding the condo and the office
(where he gets to spend the day when the boss is gone).
I will stop now, but I'm sure this story is far from over. Prepare yourselves now. In the book of Badly Behaved Dogs, Bubalou's chapter has just begun.