January 18, 2005

there’s a splinter in the cheese whiz

***(Thanks for the excellent brussel sprout tips – I’ll try again this week!!!)

I have a confession. Or, not a confession so much as an outloud admission.

I said to Alex last night, “We really shouldn’t be calling ourselves vegetarians anymore.” I said this as I hand-shredded 3 boneless chicken breast halves that had just cooled off from being poached.

I hung onto that title for far too long, feeling guilty for not being a pure vegetarian, and feeling like I’d lose a piece of me if I dropped the word from my description. It was “my thing.” But people can’t be summed up in a questionnaire or a blogger profile page or by a list of what they eat. I’m a foodie, not a vegetarian.

I stopped eating red meat & chicken at age 12 (I never ate fish). I half converted the guy who was my boyfriend from age 19 to 23 – he liked the healthier ways of my eating (excluding the mass quantities of chocolate and mounds of sour cream on potatoes) and just about stopped eating red meat. But he did eat lots of chicken and I went from picking at his plate to ordering chicken fingers (merely a carrier for honey mustard) and grilled chicken sandwiches. He & I broke up and went back to my non-chicken ways. (Mind you, I was VEGETARIAN, not VEGAN. Lacto-ovo. I still ate dairy and eggs, but only egg whites.) I swore to date only vegetarian or vegan guys from then on.

Then I met Alex. We bonded over sex & food (eating mangos while sprawled out naked in bed on muggy summer days… mmmm…) We had the exact same eating style – vegetarian, lots of cheese and dark chocolate (not at the same time), completely and totally against red meat(he hasn’t had it a day in his life) but the occasional chicken and wishing we liked fish because they make it sound so healthy and fancy and good. Something about the words “Chilean sea bass.”

We both hate tomatoes (both wish we didn’t and still try very hard to learn to like them). Raw tomatoes and their slime. Blech. But no problem with ketchup, salsa, spaghetti sauces, pizza, etc. We are both very picky about how we like eggplant (or, aubergine). I hate mushrooms, he hates red pepper. We both disliked brussel sprouts but admitted to never really trying them. He warmed me up to spinach (now I love it raw, but not cooked) and got me to LOVE LOVE LOVE artichoke hearts. He lets me slip red or orange peppers (the color interests him, but still no to the green ones) into dinner. We love a good salad (especially with warm goat cheese and pine nuts), prefer broccoli bright green and steamed and will always make room for dessert. He can’t take anything too sweet and I have no limits. He prefers fruits & pies, I prefer heavier, creamy chocolate or custards. We both love raspberries on anything.

You get the picture. Food is a major player in our lives. He ate chicken once in awhile, for variety. He didn’t have me around to cook for most of his life, so he was limited to the same tofu stuff. I ate chicken far less, almost never, our first couple years. Then I started to cook and we went out to eat often. Food was a welcome third party in our relationship. I wanted the fancier, juicier sounding things on the menu. I ordered the rosemary chicken, the breast in some caramel-y tasting brown sauce that had me licking the plate. I ate jerk chicken and hot-enough-to-make-you-sweat tandoori chicken.

I cook like nobody’s business. I made dinner 5 out of 7 nights a week. Quiche, crepes, soups, lasagnas, stir-fry, baked tofu… When cooking, we still preferred tofu and faux chicken patties to anything that was once living. Then I said I might as well start cooking it. Alex said no, we’ll eat it but not have it in the house.

Then I brought chicken in the house. A whole chicken for making chicken stock – Nigella Lawson’s recipe for matzoh ball soup from scratch. (I already make the best matzoh ball soup on the planet, just not from a whole chicken.) I screamed and squealed the entire time, holding the chicken carcass with rubber gloves as I rinsed it off. I chased Alex with it. Then I threw it in a pot and let it cook with onions and carrots and basil and dill and celery for about 4 hours. I pulled the whole carcass out of the pot to pull of the meat to put back in the soup. It fell apart and I screamed some more. I carefully poked at it with a fork and knife, only pulling off the most perfect pieces.

Oh, dear god, that soup was good.

So now I’ve made mediterranean chicken cigars, burritos and last night – chicken with corn and creamy red pepper crepes. I squeal every time I handle those smooshy pink blobs of boneless flesh.

But it’s good, and I love to cook, and I feel more accomplished now. My desire to scribble recipes and delight Alex’s stomach (the way to a man’s heart IS through his stomach) from Nigella Lawson and Jaime Oliver and fancy crepe books has over-ridden my desire to save the little chickens. My frustration at the lack of faux chicken products here has won.

My friend here in Prague is a diehard vegan. Absolutely no animal products go anywhere near her. And I admire her for that and will enjoy challenging myself to come up for alternatives for her when I have a dinner party here. I tried to go vegan once, and lasted 2 days. The coffee got me. I need my creamer and my lattes. And goat cheese. Alex would leave me for good if I made him eat soy cheese. But I would never do such a thing to someone I love. SOY CHEESE! To a lover of food & cheese, soy cheese is beyond bad. But my vegan friend works very hard and is dedicated to being vegan – as she said, it’s insulting when people say they are vegetarian/vegan and then add that they only eat meat/cheese/whatever a few times a year. They’re not, and I’m not.

I’ll hardly abandon cooking vegetarian – we’ll still take tofu when given the choice, and we’re all about the health now. But I confess – we eat chicken and I’m getting really adept at cooking it. (However, that’s as far as I go – red meat and pork will never ever ever touch my lips or enter this household. EVER.)

Hi, my name is Paz and I’m not a vegetarian.

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