Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Incredible Shrinking Thanksgiving

I don’t generally do a big Thanksgiving dinner here. It’s sorta self-defeating to cook a turkey with all the trimmings, then sit and eat it by myself while my wife has a bean loaf with salad. This year, however, I had big plans.

We invited some friends over for dinner on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to have a full, traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner. It had to be the weekend because, you know, some people work. (On the real Thanksgiving, I don’t think we had anything for dinner because we didn’t have a kitchen—more on that later). The meal was to include—in addition to the main attractions of turkey, stuffing, gravy, roast potatoes and cranberry sauce—the traditional beans with slivered almonds, creamed corn, corn bread and pumpkin pie. Since many of these foods are unfamiliar to Brits, I thought this would be a great introduction to American cuisine. It also promised to be agreeably humorous, as the uninitiated’s initial reaction to creamed corn is generally incredulity followed by confusion.

As so, as The Day approached, we gathered all the necessary ingredients, and then found ourselves without a kitchen.

This wasn’t alarming, as it was something planned. What was not planned, however, was for the kitchen to be unavailable for a second day. This meant we couldn’t begin cooking the corn bread or pumpkin pie, so we had to call those off. I also canceled the green beans with slivered almonds because it would have been more effort than it was worth. No one would have eaten it; it would have received a bit of curious poking, then gone into the bin, so I decided there wasn’t enough comic potential to make it worthwhile.

The meal was now turning into more of a Sunday Roast than a special T-Day Dinner, but at least we still had the cranberry sauce and the creamed corn.

Then the kitchen was out of commission for a third day.

This was the day of The Meal, and we were scrambling to figure out how to get it done on time. The kitchen itself was complete, sort of, but when we turned on the oven, it didn’t work. This came as a surprise, as the oven had not been touched during the disruption to the kitchen. We weren’t too worried, as the Kitchen Guys were due to come back that morning to clean up. However, they were not coming until 11:00 and there was no way to get a turkey dinner cooked before the guests arrived. Our only option was to push dinner back by an hour.

Then, to our joy, the Kitchen Guys arrived early. They got to work straight away, and pulled out the oven to check the wiring.

And the electricity went out.

It wasn’t a simple case of changing a fuse or resetting a breaker, and a long period of darkness loomed. (More on that later.)

We called our friends and explained the situation. They offered to cancel, but we told them that, at the very least, we had wine and cheesecake, so they came over any way.

In the meantime, my wife nipped to the Co-Op next door and bought cold cuts, cheese, crackers, olives, veggies and dip, and managed to whip up a holiday buffet. Oh, and candles, she also bought candles.

A candle-lit Thanksgiving Day Buffet.
So, our guests arrived and we had a lovely, candle lit meal—with wine—and cheese cake for dessert. When the electricity finally came back on, we toasted the light with whiskey and settled down to a long game of Trivial Pursuit—Baby Boomer Edition.

The coup de grĂ¢ce to any hope of having a turkey dinner came when we realized we would be too busy this coming week to be able to cook the thawed-out turkey breast waiting in the ‘fridge, so, many empty wine bottles later, our guests departed in a taxi, along with the holiday turkey and a box of stuffing.

Despite that, it turned out to be the most enjoyable Thanksgiving I have spent here, and it was certainly the best one I have ever experienced that didn’t involve a turkey.

A toast, to good friends, good food, and an uninterrupted supply of electricity.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Being Flexible

For the past few weeks, I’ve been flirting with the notion of vegetarianism. The reasons for this are varied, strangely arbitrary and have nothing to do with animal rights (when did they write a Constitution?), the environment, health, religion or any other misplaced conviction. In fact, the reasons are so random, insignificant and seemingly unrelated that even I don’t know how they combined to cause such a radical (for me) decision. I suppose it didn’t hurt that I have lived with vegetarians for much of my adult life, but I can’t say that figured into my decision any more than reading a book about WWII spies* did. Suffice it to say, the drip-drip-drip of life events finally converged into a rippling wave that slowly pushed me toward the Island of Alternative Eating and left me stranded on its shore.

That's not food, that's what food eats.
My plan is to become what I like to call a Hypocritical Vegetarian (a Hypocritarian?), which means I will only eat animals that A) are too tasty to ignore, and B) suffer the misfortune of not having a suitable meat substitute available. Fish are especially lacking in this area. There is no substitute for tuna in a tuna-fish sandwich, nor do breaded tofu sticks measure up in any meaningful way to what Capt’n Birds Eye serves up. Also, I have yet to find a plant-based turkey, so I’m afraid Tom-turkey will be visiting my dining table this Thanksgiving, along with a bit of Percy-pig in the stuffing.

But I’m comfortable with that. Vegetarianism isn’t something you can nail down. You don’t pound a stake into the ground, point to it and say, “This is where vegetarianism lives.” Vegetarianism is a continuum, and anyone further along that continuum is free to look over their shoulder and call anyone behind them a hypocrite. I think that’s a waste of time, because while they are doing that, the people further along the continuum are looking over their shoulders and calling them hypocrites.

For the record, my wife is the only person I know—and I hasten to add there are certainly many more, I just don’t know them—who is a non-hypocritical vegetarian. This is because, unlike many vegetarians, she doesn’t avoid meat for any social, spiritual or metaphysical reason, she just doesn’t like meat. So, to be pedantic, she’s not really a vegetarian; she’s just a picky eater.

I, on the other hand, am quite fond of meat, but I am willing to give it up, to a degree, based on a collage of esoteric reasons that I don’t pretend to understand. It’s been an interesting journey so far, a time of trial and error and surprising discoveries — some good, some not so good. (Have you ever tried vegan pepperoni? Don’t.) But overall, I was pleased, especially with the idea that I had invented my own, personal style of vegetarianism, until I discovered that I hadn’t.

Apparently, what I am doing is so popular, it has its own name — Flexitarian — which is defined as “people who eat a plant-based diet with the occasional inclusion of meat.” (Or, to put it another way, people who aren’t vegetarians.)

Flexitarianism is not new, it is merely experiencing an inconvenient resurgence in popularity; otherwise, I would have remained happily ignorant of it. In 2003, the American Dialect Society voted Flexitarian as the year’s most useful word. Had I known this a few weeks ago, I would never have considered putting a toe on the vegetarian continuum; I hate the idea that I jumped on a bandwagon. I wanted to be a lone, hypocritical voice, crying in the vegewilderness. Instead, I’m just another guy pretending to be a vegetarian while the people ahead of us on the continuum look over their shoulders and scowl. It’s disappointing to discover that I have to share the scorn.

I remain pleasantly surprised, however, to find there are people on the continuum who are behind me. People I could scowl over my shoulder at, if I was of that ilk. Apparently, you can just give up steak and call yourself a Pollo-pescetarian. And if you give up chicken in the bargain, you become a Pescetarian, which is sorta where I am, with occasional forays into Pollo-territory. Then there are vegetarians who don’t consume dairy products, who can scowl at us all, and those who eschew eggs, who can scowl at them. Now you are getting into Vegan territory, but that is no more nailed down than vegetarianism is. Do you eat honey? What about plants that are sustained by slave-bees, who are trucked to orchards and fields and forced to pollinate, then rounded up and trucked to another location. So Veganitis is as woolly a condition as Pollo-Pesce-eggavoidance is.

Incidentally, the way to determine if someone is a vegetarian or a vegan is this: You can have a conversation with a vegetarian, even go for a meal with them. You’ll have a lovely chat and part never knowing they are a vegetarian. But if you meet a vegan, you can’t spend 15 second with them without them telling you about it. You might think their lifestyle a little odd, but trust me, they are simply the lid on an economy-sized package of nut-burgers.

No, it's you
Beyond vegans are fruitarians, who only eat fruit (not sustained by slave-bees, I assume). And beyond them are Breatharians, who believe you can survive on sunlight and water alone. Even Breatharians are divided into camps, where one group believes you don’t need the water, just the sunlight. The way to tell these two apart is: the non-water ones die within a few days, the water and sunlight ones can last weeks.

Obviously, I have no intention of exploring those extremes of the continuum, I’m comfortable back here, near the beginning (but not at the beginning) and unperturbed about being labeled a hyprcitarian.

Just don’t call me a Flexitarian.

* In this book, which was an account of a true story, a young man joined the Nazis for the purpose of spying on them and manages to tap into a very valuable stream of information. His girlfriend, who is helping him, gets mistaken for a Nazi sympathizer by Partisans and the young man has to stand by and watch her get put up against a wall and shot because, if he tried to intervene, he would have given himself away, wherein he would have found himself up against the wall, and the information necessary for the Allied war effort would stop. Nothing whatsoever to do with vegetarianism, but it provided one of the many threads that formed the rope that pulled me toward it.