Eat your words, Tom

Posted: January 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Diet, Dinner | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments »

Yup, we tried to go vegetarian. Or at least vegetarian-until-the-next-steak. The ground rules were simple: No eating meat for a month except if it was served at a friend’s house. Only veggie meals at home and restaurants.

Easy enough, right? Nope. It was tougher than my mom’s overcooked pot roast.

For one thing, it made planning meals more complicated. I quickly realized that I had an asparagus-thin definition of vegetarianism. I couldn’t just eat pasta or salad every night, so I had to dig around for recipes. This meant thinking about the menu more than an hour before eating — always a challenge for me.

Then there was the challenge of eating out. Sure most places have one or two vegetarian dishes (often buried on the menu), but many of these dishes seem to be traditional meat-focused fare minus the chicken or beef.  You may get a few extra carrots, but nothing else. So you end up with a dish that looks as if it’s missing something. And here’s a fun fact: one restaurant said it uses a meat-based broth for its meat-less dishes. Considering the potato-leak soup? Ask how it’s made.

I think I was in Week 2 of the experiment when I realized I was cheating. I blindly ordered the macaroni special for lunch and got a heaping plate of pasta and ground beef. The next night, as I scrambled from one meeting to another, I ordered takeout chili. I ate half of it before I realized it too had beef (well, it was advertised as ground beef). Clearly I needed a daily reminder that I was now a vegetarian.

The month came and went. Curiously, it ended with the thud of new food books, including How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. I like Pollan’s manifesto: Eat (real) food, not too much, mostly plants. If my experiment taught me anything it’s that I need to think more about what I eat. Where did the veggies on my plate come from? What’s in the beef? Am I using meat simply as filler?

We’ll see how this goes.

The November Steak Vegetarian Challenge

Posted: December 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Diet, Dinner | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

To be or not to be a vegetarian? That is the question.

We were on one of our weekend trips to the Valley earlier this fall. Typically they include feasts, farts, relaxation and a visit to the awesome Canning Village Meat Market. During this particular visit to the store we spotted some gorgeous valley-grown beef on display. We couldn’t make up our minds about how many to buy, the price, or should we just buy something else. I’m sure that butcher saw us coming from a mile away. He upped his sales pitch by using all the latest culinary catch phrases that send us typically urban eaters into a frenzy, “local”, “grass fed” and “organic”. We were an easy target. We picked up four strip-loin steaks along with some pork products. What are you gonna do? They were magnificent looking.

This brings us to a few weeks ago on one of the last Sundays of November. I suggested to Terra about having the last two steaks that night with vegetables we had also bought in the valley. We agreed and I fired up the BBQ for the last time this year. I was outside with a flashlight checking for doneness when I had an idea. Why not go vegetarian for a while after this meal? I came inside with the steaks –rare for me, medium rare for Terra– and told her the plan. As we ate we created some rules to make this work. Seeing as we’re meat eaters and didn’t want this to be forever. Planning had already started with the rest of the SixTop staff for an “Xmas in the Valley” blow-out this year (post to come). The menu naturally includes meat so our first rule would be a time frame. Stay vegetarian until December 24th. The second would be dinner parties. If a friend’s dinner invitation has meat on the menu, we wouldn’t turn it down. Last would be eating out. We agreed we would maintain the veg. regiment at restaurants.

So now with a few weeks to go until Xmas I think the experiment is going well. Aside of a few steps off the path due to parties and caving in to the awesomeness that is bacon once we’ve been eating well. But it hasn’t been always easy. Our challenges have been lunch and eating out. It’s harder to find something to make a sandwich without something like tuna-salad or cold-cuts. And when you’re not brown bagging it there isn’t a huge lunch choice when eating out. Actually eating out in general has been the biggest hurtle. A lot of restaurants with several pages of items have only two or three vegetarian selections. And it’s no surprise that North American style restaurants tend to focus on meat and a side while ethnic restaurants had way more options for meals that could consist of vegetables only. This suited us fine as we find most of the better restaurants in Halifax are ethnic.

So there you have it. This experiment has made us realize a few things about our eating habits. One is that we don’t eat that much meat to begin with, which was a pleasant surprise. We also realized that meat tends to be more of a treat when we do eat it or it’s only used as an ingredient. I don’t think we’ll ever stop eating meat completely but we’d both be fine with keeping up this amount of eating vegetables.

Oh, and that steak back in November? It was divine.