Friday, October 31, 2008

It's a sign.

Tonight, at precisely midnight, I will begin writing for NaNoWriMo. And in looking at this blog upon returning home from my evening excursions, my visitor number had reached 1667 - precisely the number of words that I am charged to write each day for the next thirty. Coincidence? Perhaps... AND PERHAPS NOT!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Great (Chocolate) Debate.

With all of the troubles in the world of chocolate - child labor, unsustainable agricultural practices, unfair purchase prices, animal testing - I'm often in a stupid conundrum when I want to do something as simple as, say, bake chocolate chip cookies. Actually chocolate chips are probably the easiest chocolate product to find in vegan, fair trade, organic, and otherwise non-offensive varieties - even if stupid old Key Foods did start including "milk ingredient" in their generic semi-sweet chips recently.

Where I really run into problems is in doing something like making fudge. My issue lies with two main product groups: 1) unsweetened baking chocolate, and 2) cocoa.

In the baking chocolate arena, there are two main contenders.

Baker's semi-sweet chunks and squares, and their unsweetened squares, are vegan ingredient-wise. And once the little natural grocery is closed in my neighborhood (after 9pm), it's usually all I can get my hands on. However, Baker's is actually a brand of Kraft. And until today I've been under the impression that Kraft was owned by Altria, who is actually just a rebranded Phillip Morris. However, now that I'm researching it again, I find that in 2007 there was a "spin out of the Kraft Foods subsidiary", and supposedly that means thatAltria no longer has an interest in Kraft. To which I say, wha??? Apparently what it means is that Kraft is now an independent publicly held entity. Now, whether or not that makes them now a good company is a different discussion entirely, but at least it means that you're no longer supporting Phillip Morris when you purchase Kraft products or any of their brands, so I suppose that's something.

Then we have Green & Black's, who makes various organic and fair trade chocolate products, many of which are vegan - but also many products which don't have any particularly special characteristics, other than being really good chocolate. They started out as a tiny awesome little company - the name itself is actually a testimony to their original ethics and intentions. They were then, however, bought byCadbury-Schweppes. Then Cadbury and Schweppes de-mergered; Cadbury, though, is still the largest confectionery manufacturer in the world. They've pledged to run Green & Black's as a separate entity, whatever that means... It does mean indisputably, though, that by purchasing Green & Black's you are also supporting all manner of other candies that don't meet various ethical standards.


What I haven't mentioned here is that I'm also quite picky: it has to taste good, and I don't put up with any hippie ass shit. No carob, nothing sweetened with sucanant or brown rice syrup or any of that crap. All I want is chocolate that's organic and fair trade, and contains little or nothing other than cocoa and cocoa butter, maybe a dash of soylecithin, and if it's semi-sweet then some cane sugar. Why is that so hard?

As far as cocoa, I've got no leads at all. When I go to the regular grocery I have one choice and one alone: Hershey's. Do I even need to tell you that I don't particularly want to buy Hershey cocoa? They are the largest chocolate company in the US, and they put butterfat in freaking everything. It makes me crazy. (As a bit of an odd aside: I've been to Hershey, PA - twice. It's not my fault; it was middle school.)

I can't seem to find a good answer to this search. I came across this page which includes a guide to ethical chocolate, but it's for Australia. It also rubs me a little bit wrong: it strikes me as kind of sadly hilarious and all too ironic that they're encouraging people to support Starbucks and Target when they focus on abuses of child labor.

So, does anyone have any answers here? It seems like it's yet another case of finding the least of a hundred evils. I have so many rules, and I really can't find a chocolate product that adheres to them all. Of course, what it all comes down to is that chocolate is supposed to be a luxury item; it is ludicrous to have it lining the shelves of every grocery store and quick-e-mart. That's the result of the masses wanting the luxuries for cheap, as were so many things. It's related to the fact that there's no reason for a hamburger to cost 59 cents... but that's a different rant for a different day.

There is, to my knowledge, no such thing as the independent, privately owned, all vegan all organic all fair trade chocolate company. So really it comes down to the question, what compromise do I make? Is it better to buy conventionally produced and traded chocolate from Kraft, who is now an independent public entity? Or to buy organic but not necessarily fair trade chocolate from Green & Black's, when in reality I'm only supportingCadbury who makes a wide range of conventional chocolate products? Do I purchase whatever I can get (that's vegan, of course) at my locally owned vegetarian health food store, rather than buying other products that may be available at a massive chain grocery like Whole Foods?

And to think, all I want to do is make fudge.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

NaNoWriMo! Yup.

Yes, I'm jumping on that crazyperson bandwagon. I, along with over a hundred thousand others, will be endeavoring to write 50,000 words. In the month of November. I'm not allowed to start until midnight on November 1st (and I'm not cheating!), and the fifty-thousand-th word must be typed and submitted no later than midnight on the 30th for me to be considered a "winner". But truly, there are no losers mong those who try. Who am I kidding though! I totally want to "win"!

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and I actually heard about it because of VeganMoFo, which is technically based on the idea. I've been faithfully writing a food post on my vegan blog every single day throughout the month of October, and hopefully that will be good training - discipline wise at least. (Sometime after the tenth day I stopped posting most of the VeganMoFo posts on my combined blog because I decided they were too boring for the general reading public.)

I've got my story sort of etched out: characters imagined, plot points scribbled down, and most importantly several pages' worth of scenes that I want to write. This, I feel, is crucial. Because the thing is that the book doesn't have to be a finished, edited product at the end of November. It doesn't have to be cohesive. It doesn't have to make sense. This is just bulk creation: as they put it, "an experiment in pure output... Editing is for December." They're right, it will make my inner editor very grumpy. But I'll get behind it, I'll plow through, if only for the sake of the imaginary shiny gold metal.

The NaNoWriMo team has proven to be a group with personality. They're a nonprofit, and they have a good website (you can see my profile!) and send out emails. The first one they sent to me when I signed up had the following tips:
1) It's okay to not know what you're doing. Really. You've read a lot of novels, so you're completely up to the challenge of writing one. If you feel more comfortable outlining your story ahead of time, do so. But it's also fine to just wing it. Write every day, and a book-worthy story will appear, even if you're not sure what that story might be right now.

2) Do not edit as you go. Editing is for December. Think of November as an experiment in pure output. Even if it's hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn't. Every book you've ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you.

3) Tell everyone you know that you're writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who've had to hear about your novel for the past month. Seriously. Email them now about your awesome new book. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.

3.5) There will be times you'll want to quit during November. This is okay. Everyone who wins NaNoWriMo wanted to quit at some point in November. Stick it out. See it through. Week Two can be hard. Week Three is much better. Week Four will make you want to yodel.

And we're talking the good kind of yodeling here.

See? They're sort of adoreable. The whole thing is set up to give a sense of community, down to organizing regions and having kickoff parties and write-in groups and such.

All of this means that there are things I really need to get finished before November 1: reading Jane Eyre, well I'm close to done with that. It's a sweet little book, though I think I should have read it when I was younger and more easily swept away in romantacism. Writing my F train blog post: Sarah and I rode the F not this past weekend but the weekend before that; I'm dragging my feet on getting the post written as usual. And once all of my writing energies are sucked into putting out 1667 words per day, I doubt I'll be doing that many in depth blog posts. And I don't know what else; I'm sure there's stuff.

Never fear though: I'll keep you updated. I'm thinking something along the lines of posting my favorite new sentences or paragraphs here daily or near daily... or something.

I'm excited. Who knows what I'll produce? I'm hoping it'll be longer than anything I've written yet. In what I consider my adult work, my longest piece comes in at just over 5000 words. This is supposed to end up at ten times that. It's also the first time I'm really trying to write about New York City in a fictional capacity.

So yeah, it should be interesting. Wee! Fun.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Two Dead in Brooklyn:

And once again, cops prove that they are the most dangerous people in the neighborhood... Why is it that every time I hear of a gunfight lately, it's the police who are doing the most shooting? Do they ever exercise restraint anymore, or have they officially adopted a stance of "shoot now, ask questions later"? I mean, why bother figuring out what's going on with a situation when you can just start firing, right? Sadly, it seems that the rookies at least have taken this method to heart.

Perhaps the mother of these boys and the mother of Sean Bell can start a little club.

Here's my favorite part of the NYT report:

The officer fired 16 times, emptying his Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol. The lieutenant, who was on the other side of the car and farther from the rushing men, fired his revolver once. Neither man had ever fired a gun in the line of duty, Chief Collins said. The officers’ names were not released on Sunday.
Sixteen times? At two people? Who weren't even shooting? Could it be any more obvious that the young officer, who's only been on the force since 2005, just freaked out and acted totally irrationally? Sure, officers are only human. But that's the point. We give them so much power over us, but they're just as fallible as anyone. Anyone who wants to say otherwise has no choice but to hold them accountable when they do things like this.

I am curious to see what the "formal questioning" of the officers will reveal, and I don't quite understand why it hadn't been conducted as of Sunday night. At any rate, I'll admit fully that my mind is tainted. I believe that the police will say exactly what they need to say to make their actions seem warranted. As I've said, they're only human, and don't we all rationalize our actions? The big difference is that most of us don't wield this kind of power over the lives of others.

I literally have chills at this. It makes me fear for my society infinitely more than any criminal ever will; we should not have to fear those who are charged to protect us... One day, maybe soon, I'll tell you the story of having a gun pointed at me. At my head, specifically. While lying in bed. By a cop, of course. But ah yes, another story for another day.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Simple Tomato and Cabbage Soup and / or Stew, depending.

What's for dinner? Leftover Thai delivery. Whatta we got? "Singapore noodles" - basically a giant container of flat rice noodles, supplemented by three tiny pieces of broccoli, two slices of bell pepper, and three wedges of tofu. Not enough food for dinner for two, so how shall I supplement? Well, I believe I'll invent a soup and add WAY too much chopped cabbage, so that we end up with a stew. It will go a little something like this:

Take one medium yellow onion. Slice and sautee in a lil' bit of olive oil in a medium to large soup pot. Cook it till it's good and transparent. Add one cup of chopped celery; cook it until some water starts coming out; about five minutes. Into this pour one large, 28oz. can of tomato puree - not one that has a lot of crap added to it. One that's just tomatoes, and maybe some salt. Also throw in one teaspoon each of lemon pepper, parsley, basil, and salt (if your tomatoes are unsalted), and two tablespoons of maple syrup, preferably grade B. Bring this up to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer and let it simmer, covered, for ten minutes and/or until it starts tasting like a semi-decent tomato sauce.

Add four cups of stock; return the pot to a boil. Then add a quarter of a head of cabbage, chopped, for a more soupy consistency, or do like I did and throw in a full half head chopped for more of a stew. Return the pot to a boil once more, reduce to a simmer yet again, and let simmer covered for 30 to 40 minutes.

The number of servings depends almost entirely on how much you like cabbage. Don't worry about having leftovers - like most soups, it's even better the next day.

Chase ate WaMu. I want to vomit.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q. What will happen to my account at WaMu? And to my branch?
A. It's business as usual. As of September 25, 2008, JPMorgan Chase has assumed the deposit and loan accounts, and all branches, of Washington Mutual. You can continue to access your accounts just the way you've accessed them in the past: use your same branch, same debit, credit and ATM cards, same checks. And soon, you can look forward to all the hassles and annoyances that you expect from the Chase Banking experience. Look for an increase in fines, reduced services, and inexplicable indiscrepancies in your monthly statements.

Q. What if I consider JPMorgan Chase a curse upon humanity, and do not want to do business with them?
A. In time you will be adequately brainwashed. In the end we will own all banks and control all monnies, so it is just as well that you get used to the idea as soon as possible.

Q. Is my money safe?
A. Yes; in addition to FDIC insurance, now you're assured your bank is backed by the strength and security of JPMorgan Chase. If you have money in both banks, your deposits have separate FDIC insurance for up to six months. Come see us and we can help you review your coverage. Rest assured that we will be investing every penny you put into our banks for the most possible benefit to our banking institutions.

Q. What if I have more than $100,000 at WaMu?
A. Your money is secure and now protected by the strength of Chase. Chase assumed all deposits of Washington Mutual. You obviously have more money than you need anyway, so we'll figure out how to take more of it from you.

Q.Will I ever again have the opportunity to bank with an institution which I do not find despicable?
A. No. And please stop calling the 800 number to ask. Our operators are automatons and you are short-circuiting them.

Q. When can I bank at Chase branches in my area?
A. We'll be working hard to combine systems as quickly as possible so you can begin to enjoy expanded branch convenience in your area, and we expect system changes to begin late next year. To expediate the process, we will make sure to hire inexperienced and underqualified workers for every branch, with the added benefit (to us) of significant cuts to payroll costs. We'll let you know in advance of any changes; in the meantime, simply continue to bank at WaMu branches as you do today and enjoy it while you can.

Q. Do my direct deposit, automated payments and transfers remain the same?
A. Yes. These services all continue for you without interruption or action on your part, until JPMorgan chase decides to ruin your life by changing them without notifying you.

Q. Where do I send my credit card and loan payments?
A. There is no change in how or where you make payments; payment instructions and addresses remain unchanged. Continue to make payments on time on penalty of death; no excuses will be heard.

Q. I have a Chase credit card, car loan, and mortgage. Can I make payments at a WaMu branch now?
A. Not yet, you moron! We'll let you know when you can make Chase credit card, car loan, mortgage or other loan payments at WaMu branches, or vice versa.

Q. I have deposit accounts at both WaMu and Chase. Are both of my accounts insured?
A. Yes! If you opened a WaMu deposit account before September 26, 2008, that account will be separately insured by the FDIC for six months (until March 24, 2009), up to the maximum FDIC insurance limits, including any new deposits into your WaMu account. After that, who knows? We're sure you'll figure it out eventually.

Accounts opened on or after September 26, 2008, are combined with all other JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. accounts to determine FDIC insurance. That's crystal clear, isn't it?

Q. I have Certificates of Deposit (CDs) at both WaMu and Chase. Are both of those FDIC-insured?
A. Yes! WaMu CDs are separately insured from JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. accounts until March 24, 2009. And insurance for WaMu CDs existing on September 25 may be extended: WaMu CDs maturing after March 24 , 2009, which roll over without any changes (such as amount, term, or title), are separately insured until their first maturity date after March 24, 2009. WaMu CDs opened on or after September 26, 2008, will be combined with all other JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. accounts to determine FDIC insurance. But, come on, you don't really need insurance now do you? Don't you trust us?

Q. I have retirement accounts at both WaMu and Chase. Are both of these accounts insured?
A. WaMu self-directed Keogh and Individual Retirement deposit accounts (including retirement CDs) will be separately insured by the FDIC for six months for the maximum FDIC limits, separately from any other retirement accounts that you may have at JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. Duh.

Q. I opened a deposit account with WaMu on or after September 26, 2008, when Chase and WaMu joined. I already have a Chase deposit account. Are they both insured?
A. Your deposit accounts opened on or after September 26, 2008 at a WaMu branch will not receive separate FDIC coverage (as described above). For FDIC insurance purposes, they will be combined with all other deposits of JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., You can maximize your FDIC coverage through the use of a combination of joint and individual accounts. Just visit www.FDIC. gov to find out more, and stop bothering us about it.

Q. I'm a small business owner. What will change for my business?
A. Immediately, no change at all – bank just as you do today. As our systems merge, we look forward to bringing you innovative services ranging from online invoicing to convenient ways to help you manage your cash flow while gouging you with ridiculous fees and usurious interest rates. Chase is a national leader in business banking services, and is the nation's #1 SBA lender. For over two decades, Chase has been developing innovative methods of manipulating small businesses to drive themselves into the ground so that multi-billion dollar, multinational corporations will have little to no competition; they know small business inside and out!

Q. I have a relationship with the WaMu Commercial Group. What will change for my business?
A. Immediately, no change at all - work with the Commercial Group just as you do today. As our systems merge, we look forward to bringing you innovative services. Chase is a national leader in commercial lending and cash management solutions, and we don't have to tell you what that means.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A gallery of cupcakes - because this blog has been too depressing lately.

And really, who doesn't like cupcakes?

The red velvets I made in my mother-in-law-to-be's kitchen for Christmas 2007.

Gingerbread cupcakes...

With Halloween flare.

I made these for my own birthday this year, which isn't nearly as depressing as it sounds: more ginger. Or were they? These may have had the rum frosting, and I can't remember what cake I paired that with.

And yes, more red velvet, made for last Winter's holiday bash. If you were there, you probably drank a martini or three. We had a fairly dazzling array of vegan foodstuffs, and I will never stop mourning the fact that I didn't manage to photograph any of it. Maybe one day I'll tell you about it, and then you'll go to bed with visions of individual mini-lasagnas dancing in your head...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dear Daily News, not every cop is a hero.

OK. So, a guy uses a student metrocard to get on the subway when he shouldn't be using a student metrocard. Where did he get the card? No one has said yet. Perhaps he picked it up off the ground; perhaps he borrowed it from a nephew; there was certainly no way to have this information at the time that he was using it on the evening of October 21st in the F station at 21st street in Long Island City.

After swiping this card and entering the platform, he was approached by two men who were not in uniform. There is no mention of them flashing badges. He may or may not have registered them saying that they were police officers. He most definitely registered that they were putting handcuffs on him though.

Now, this is where the story gets a little fuzzy for me.

He was being handcuffed? immediately and without any questioning? For using a student metrocard when he wasn't a student? Last time I checked, it cost $2.00 for a ride on the subway. Sure they have restrictions about who gets discounted fares, and I could see issuing a ticket - the current fine for jumping a turnstile is $100, and to me it would be logical that using a card issued to someone else would be comparable.

But arrest? Over $2.00? Like, are you joking? Sure, it turns out that (allegedly) this man had a "narcotics violation" in 2001 for which he was deported, and he may or may not have come back to the U.S. illegally. But just like the officers had no way of knowing where he got the student metro card, they also had no idea at that moment of whether or not the man had a record. As far as they were aware, the inappropriatemetrocard use was his only offense.

Now it gets really fun. Somehow this guy struggles so much that even with one hand handcuffed, he manages to get both officers to the ground? Is this man enormous? Is he a pro wrestler? Are these cops both five feet tall or just that ridiculously out of shape?

It gets better. Somehow one of the officers' guns "comes loose", and this is the gun with which the flipped out would-be arrestee shoots at the cops. Can someone explain to me how in the hell a gun in a holster just "comes loose"?

Long story short is this: because a man tried to beat a $2.00 fare, 3 people ended up with gunshot wounds, one life is undoubtedly ruined forever, and two other lives are unarguably permanently altered at the very least physically. Personally, I believe it's fair to say that 3 people acted unreasonably here.

And now for this course of action, all of the police involved are being haled as heroes? They heroically tried to arrest a man over two dollars? They heroically lost a two-against-one fight? They heroically lost control of their deadly weapons? Yeah man, way to go guys! What ever would I do without this kind of protection?

More and more questions arise for me the more I learn about this incident. For example, if they had the perpetrator in custody from thegetgo and he never left the station, why were there helicopters circling the area for hours - what were they looking for? Why were trains diverted from the station for more than five hours after the incident? Why were the ten blocks around the crime scene simply impassible by car long after all injured parties had been removed to hospitals? Something just doesn't jive there.

* * *

It seems obvious that this man was acting out of desperation and fear. Of course his actions were unwarranted and wrong: it is not OK to shoot at people if you are not in mortal danger. (And, ahem, that goes for cops too.) But if the officers' actions had been more reasonable - say, in trying to issue a ticket rather than put the man in handcuffs - there is a good chance that no bullets would have flown and no blood would have been shed. Over two dollars.

Unsurprisingly, every bulletin board on the internet that is addressing this incident has a string of comments along the lines of "send him back to where he came from" and other such nonsense. As if there are no U.S. citizens with drug records who do things significantly worse than using the wrong kind ofmetrocard each and every day. How do we know that this "narcotics violation" isn't a trumped up charge for having two joints in his pocket, or something equally as stupid? And let's just come right out and say it: something that a white kid from a good family would have gotten 30 days of community service for?

Some of you will say that if they hadn't taken him into custody, they wouldn't have found this illegal immigrant. I say: so what? Is it worth three people getting shot, and risking the lives of innocent bystanders? It is a known fact that there are thousands of illegal immigrants in this country. The "get legal or get out" attitude pisses me off; it's not exactly an easy process for people who are poor and don't speak English. Yes, I think they should try. But I don't know that the system is entirely fair. I'm much more concerned about criminals who are legal citizens who are robbing, raping, and dealing real drugs, than people who happen to be illegal but are trying to lead decent lives in a new country.

* * *

My favorite "heroic" action is when the supervising Lieutenant shot at the guy six times, hitting him four times. This makes him a hero how? Suddenly now two wrongs do make a right? If he'd tackled the man, gotten the gun from him without anyone else being harmed, and gotten the handcuffs on him, I could see the "hero" moniker being awarded. But letting loose six bullets across a subway station full of commuters? I believe that's what we call "reckless endangerment", and I sincerely hope that if any bystanders had gotten caught in the crossfire, or had even caught a ricochet, it would have been called exactly that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Animal candy.

According to PETA, there is yet another reason not to buy chocolate from the big names in U.S. producers - namely Mars. It seems that they actually do animal testing... with chocolate. I've never heard of animal testing for such a ubiquitous product, and all I can say to this is... uh, what? People have been eating chocolate for hundreds if not thousands of years. Is there some question as to its safety? Do they want to try to make some sort of health claims for Snickers bars? Do they need to know just how many Mars Bars they can force feed to a rat before it simply drops dead? What's the deal here? According to the PETA letter I recently received (via email):

The experiments funded by Mars, including the following examples, are truly the stuff of Halloween nightmares:
  • Rats have been force-fed chocolate chemicals and had needles jabbed directly into their still beating hearts.
  • Rabbits have been cut apart to determine the effects of cocoa on muscle tissue.
  • Guinea pigs have had cocoa ingredients injected into arteries in their necks to measure the impact on their blood pressure.

It truly boggles the mind. PETA claims that they have been instrumental in influencing Hershey's, as well as other companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, to stop such unnecessary testing on products already proven to be safe. They of course put all of this in the context of asking for money; the validity of this request I will not pass judgment on, though I will mention that the fund is for a general Stop Animal Testing campaign and not specifically targeted at Mars.

Vivisection, while obviously not something to condone, is hardly a drop in the bucket when you compare numbers of animals affected to, say, food animals. Animal testing has never been a big focus of mine in concerns of animal rights simply because it is a much smaller problem. Obviously most of it is ridiculous and unnecessary, but I also think that unfortunately people tend to care about it because it happens to cute widdle bunny wabbits. To get all righteous about animal testing and then continue to eat meat or use other animal products is 1) quite common, 2) simply ridiculous, 3) blatantly hypocritical, and 4) a pet peeve of mine.

As far as chocolate is concerned, problems with the major chocolate companies run much deeper than animal testing. Similar to the coffee industry, farming and labor issues are enormous - all so that an already privileged population can have a completely unnecessary luxury item at a low price. It's a luxury - it shouldn't be cheap. But that's another discussion for another day.

While I'm not 100% successful in only supporting ethical companies with sustainable practices, I try to always be conscious in my purchases about how a product is being produced and what company it's coming from. In my book, this vivisection issue is just one more reason not to buy chocolate that isn't both vegan and fair trade, and moreover from a company that can be trusted.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Black helicopters.

So a few minutes ago I arrived at my studio. The studio is in an old industrial building just south of Queensboro Plaza, and if you're in NYC this means something to you, and if you're not it doesn't. For a bit more universal relevance, it's in a fairly industrial neighborhood wedged between a majorcommutor bridge leading onto a highway and the enormous Citibank tower. My nearest neighbor is Silvercup Studios, where among other things Ugly Betty is filmed.

OK. So now that I've set the scene for you a little, I'll get on to today's action. I came to my studio to edit the story that I'm working on for The First Line, which hello is due on November First. But I'm super distracted, because there are no less than six helicopters hovering and/or circling within audible range. On top of which I'm hearing various types of sirens about every minute or so.

Now, this is New York. Things happen here, and while they're often loud they're usually also quite boring: the president or some ambassadors or something will be in town, and all manner ofobnoxous cavalcade will ensue for days on end. But today, here, this is a mystery. I thought maybe there was some kind of huge accident coming off of the bridge, but I can clearly see traffic moving swiftly on all levels. I don't see any smoke anywhere. If there was somebody just that famous at Silvercup I imagine there'd be some ground coverage as well.

Seriously, this is quite annoying. One of the circling helicopters is coming within a few hundred feet of my building every minute or so. I wanna know what's going on, and if it's something stupid I want them to go the hell away! I have things to do.

* * *

I figured it out. It's far from stupid. It's actually scary as shit and way too close to home, too close to everything on both literal and figurative levels. It seems that around 5:15 pm two police officers and one other man who may or may not be a suspect were shot in or around the F station at 21st street. The one just north of the aforementioned bridge - and probably not coincidentally the one in front of the largest housing development in the city,Queensbridge. The New York Times posted the first article on it about four minutes before I began writing this blog post.

Have I mentioned that my studio is on 22nd street?

OK. So, violent crime in the neighborhood. Fantastic. And to think, it's not even Christmastime yet. Until now it's mostly been muggers waiting forcabbies to get off of work because they tend to carry large wads of cash, and while that's not plesant it's quite a different thing than cop shooting. With the economy doing what it's doing, a rise in crime is pretty much inevitable. And I'm sure it's totally wrong of me to assume that I get to be isolated from that. But as I don't watch TV or read news of any kind, I live in a bubble for the most part.

This just feels so close. I've used that station, and walked passed that neighborhood, many times. I could walk there in five minutes right now. And just this past Sunday I rode the entire length of the F train, the first train trip I've undertaken since early September for my subway project. In fact, after the trip was done I considered riding the F train back up to the 21st st/Queensbridge stop and then walking over to Queensboro Plaza, but then thought better of it since it was after dark and I was alone. Jonathan and I were discussing the 21st street station last night, with its odd '70s architecture.

This is freaking me out. Probably more than it should, but understand. I spent significant portions of childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood in neighborhoods where I did not feel safe - largely because I wasn't safe. Feeling secure in my home is among the top five priorities in my adult, self-built life. And right now I could draw you a nice little isosceles triangle with three points: my studio, my home, and this crime scene, all within a 20 minute walk from each other. This does not make me feel warm and fuzzy.

When I walk due west from my apartment, I land in Queensbridge North. There's a lovely riverwalk along the East River there, which lines up with the creepy lighthouse of Roosevelt Island. Sometimes I go there and read. I always go there alone. And when I'm there I've always thought, oh, how remarkable - yes, it's projects, but it seems so safe and quiet here.

Perhaps I've been fooling myself, and these projects are just as messed up as any I encountered in D.C. or New Orleans? Perhaps it's mostly a downtrodden but upstanding community plagued by a few real criminals? Perhaps this is just the act of one rogue kid who's gotten in way over his head? Perhaps the cops started shooting when they didn't need to, and the victim didn't know what to do but shoot back, and this is the result? There are so many possibilities, and all are questions that I don't want to have to be asking.

What I know is that I need to, at some point, get home from my studio. Several blocks of usually abandoned, now darkened streets lay between me andQueensboro Plaza, where I will wait for my train. I've never felt particularly unsafe in this walk, even much later at night. But now, I'm not so sure.

Is this an isolated incident? Or is it indicative of the growing social unrest that is the inevitable result of economic collapse? I suppose that only time will tell.

How to Press Tofu in Five Easy Steps.

Ah, pressing tofu: a daunting new skill that must be attained by vegetarians and vegans everywhere. When this was first presented to me, I was simply baffled. I think the first explanation I got involved cheesecloth; that didn't help matters much. And because I didn't have anyone to simply show me how the thing was done, I was overwhelmed by what is actually a very simple task. I'm putting this out into the cloud for anyone who, like I once did, needs a little bit of help that they cannot find amongst omni friends who think that tofu is weirdo hippie food.

Step negative one: buy some tofu. Our favorite by far is Nasoya Extra Firm.

Step zero: open the package and pour out all of the excess water. See, tofu is almost like a cheese made from soybeans. The tofu is the curds, and you have to drain off the whey. Kind of. You'll get used to handling the block of tofu. And by the bye, if you should ever come across a block that's gone bad, don't worry, there's really no question about it - you'll know.

Step one: Get set to press. Put your block of tofu, relatively centered, on a dinner plate that's completely flat, except at the edges where it flares up. You know the kind. Handle the block gently; it's important that it maintains structural integrity.

Step two: Make a sandwich. Place a second dinner plate equally as flat on top of the block of tofu, so that the tofu is sandwiched between the two plates and they are centered over each other.

Step three: Get heavy. Place an object that weighs approximately two to three pounds on top of the plate-and-tofu sandwich. If it's too heavy, it will simply squash the tofu to bits, which sort of defies the point. I like using textbooks because it distributes the weight across the plate.

Step four: Observe seepage. Watch as the liquid seeps out of your tofu. You don't have to literally watch; that would be like watching paint dry. But keep tabs on it; make sure that the top plate stays flat and re-balance it if it starts to tilt. Once a significant amount of liquid has accumulated you can remove the top plate+weight and drain off the liquid, then resume pressing.

Step five: Stop pressuring me! After about half an hour to forty minutes of pressing, the tofu will stop releasing liquid. It's pretty hard to over-press, so don't worry about doing it for "too long"; your only concern is not doing it for long enough. This can lead to soggy tofu, which is not exactly appetizing and doesn't work in most dishes. Simply remove the top part of the apparatus and dump the expelled liquid; your block of tofu is now pressed and good to go.

* * *
Once you think that it's given up all that it's gonna, you can move on to your next step of preparation. Depending on what your end goal is, that could be any number of things, including mashing for a scramble, slicing for a fry, or cubing for a marinade. Tofu is quite versatile and readily absorbs flavors. When properly prepared, the sky's the limit as to what it will happily do for you.

Disclaimer: I did not make this pincushion! Scroll over (and then click on) the picture to be taken to another utterly delightful vegan blog.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Water, water, who's got the water? Apparently, not me.

Ok. So I come home from a stupid Monday at work. And the subway is all dicked up; something about a broken rail at 57th and 7th ave, which is in the opposite direction from the way I'm going but somehow fucks up my commute anyway so it takes an extra long time to get home. And I finally make it to my stop, and in the walk between the train and my apartment I'm thinking about my evening. I think, I'll do some dishes, make some dinner, do some baking, do some writing and some blogging, take a shower. Right? Right. So I get to my apartment building, and what do I see on the door? A pitifully crude handwritten sign that informs me that there's "no hot water for 2, 3 hours, waiting for oil company".

Now, a couple of things cross my mind here. One, there's absolutely no indication in this blue marker scrawl of when this notice was posted; it could have gone up at 1pm, in which case perhaps the difficulty has passed. Two, don't we use steam heat like the rest of New York City? WTF is this 'oil company' crap?

So I come in and check the water, and sure enough, nothing hot comes out of the normally beyond scalding faucet. No dishes being doing, that's for sure, and I'm a bit reluctant to cook or bake until I know that hot water is forthcoming. Don't even get me started on that shower I was planning on.

We may have hot water any minute now. Then again, since it's already after six, we may not.

Ahh, life in a "pre-war" building. The fun just never stops.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I did it! I finally succeeded!... in killing all of my studio plants.

It's true. And it's sad. I never did spend enough time here, or come here regularly enough, to keep my plants alive. And now pink and pink and the chinadoll have passed on to what we can only hope is a better place. So it goes.

But let's look at the bright side, shall we? I still have my studio. I'm sitting in it. Right now. And it's mine, I'm not even sharing it. I can still come here whenever I please, to paint or draw or create some crazy collage or make crafty things, even if that 'whenever' seems to be incredible sporadic. I spent all of my savings to do it, which may or may not have been wise, but throughout my semi-employed sabbatical I maintained this space. It seemed necessary for my soul.

I'm happy that I still have it, and while the cost does hurt I don't actually have any regrets about it. Something in me needs this; it's validating to my endeavors even when I have a little trouble validating it, if that makes any sense at all. And throughout the month of November it will give me a quiet place to write for NaNoWriMo... but more on that later.

Now, I'm off to ride the F train.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The curious case of the quinoa in the nighttime.

Oddly enough, along with my tomato and basil cream soup on Wednesday night, I also cooked quinoa. An atypical pairing, to be sure, but it's not like it horribly clashed or anything. It's just what I had on hand that needed to get cooked, and at the time I didn't know quite how filling the soup would be so it seemed we'd need a side dish. So it goes.

Quinoa is not rocket science. In fact, it's a lot more like rice. It basically involves one part grain to two parts liquid, and then a whole lot of simmering. Nevertheless, I spent about five years being too chicken to cook it.

To be fair, I'm also afraid of rice. To date I've had many, many, many more failures than successes with rice - I'd say the going rate is about four to one. So frustrating to invest an hour or more in something that's supposed to be so simple, only to end up with it being soupy or burnt or with a bunch of soap in it (long story). I can't even describe to you the relief I felt when someone finally mentioned to me that I could just buy pints of perfectly cooked brown or white rice from the Chinese place half a block from my apartment. Thank you ghetto Chinese!

So what makes this quinoa special is not just that I managed to cook it, though it is only my second attempt. I made me a flavorful quinoa, and that has made all the difference.

Perfectly Flavorful Quinoa

  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small to medium tomato, chunked
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. celery salt
  • 1 3/4 cups stock
  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • Do I need to mention that you're gonna caramelize your onion? It doesn't need to be all that caramel-ey; it just needs to get transparent and cooked and a little yellow and stuff.
  • Once your onion has achieved the above, add in your tomato and pepper and spices. Let them cook down for a while, until it's more mushy than liquidy.

  • Add in your stock and your dry quinoa. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed. Once properly cooked, the quinoa will look crazy: each grain will be sort of translucent, except for this white ring around its outer edge. If it's still white in the middle, it's not done. This built-in indicator system is part of the glory of quinoa. And luckily, it seems to be much less picky than rice about things like overcooking.
  • Let it sit uncovered for five to ten minutes before serving.
The number of servings this creates depends pretty much entirely on how much grain you like to eat at one time. I'd say that it easily makes four good sized servings.

The moral of today's story? Wheat, corn, and oats are not the end-all-be-all; don't forget your ancient grains!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Souper. (Yup. I did. I said it.)

It's October. It's getting cold...ish. I like soup. This, my friends, is very simple math.

I also like tomatoes, even though my old chiropractor swore that I shouldn't be eating nightshades. (OK, yeah, like I'm going to give up tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes? Sure, uh huh, I can totally see that happening any minute now.) After Jon's inspiration the other week with putting cream cheese in his potato and cauliflower soup, I'd got an urge to do something with cream cheese in a tomato base - probably along the lines of a tomato sauce of some kind. But when perusing La Dolce Vegan once again, I came upon a recipe for cream of tomato and basil soup (p. 114) and I knew I'd found my victim.

My version goes something like the following, and I've made shockingly few changes to the recipe; essentially they are that 1) I absolutely refuse to tell you how much oil to saute your damn onion in, 2) I specify milk type because I think it's quite important, and 3) I add cream cheese. Observe.

Tomato and Basil Cream Soup!

  • 1 small red onion, sliced
  • 1/2 cup stock
  • 1 (one) 14oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 cup tofutti cream cheese
  • 1 cup Blue Diamond unsweetened almond milk, original flavor
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped or torn (but not too early!)
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup
  • Shock of shocks, you'll start by caramelizing your onion (in the amount of oil that you see fit, damnit).
  • Add your stock, tomatoes, salt, and pepper.
  • Bring up to a "boil", though since it's quite thick I don't know that it boils per se, and then reduce to a simmer; simmer for five or so minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking / burning.
  • Use this simmering time to chop or tear your basil; in doing so beforehand you'll lose a ton of flavor.
  • After your five-or-so-minute-simmer, quickly stir in your cream cheese until it reaches an even consistency.
  • Immediately add the milk, basil, and syrup. Bring back up to a simmer (not a boil), then turn off heat. (Yup, really.)
  • Let sit for five at least minutes before serving.
This recipe really does make two large or four small servings; It made quite a nice dinner for Jon and I.

It reminds me quite strongly of the tomato basil soup that Miss Nina and I used to go to La Madeline for (way pre my vegan years). Like really, we'd be all, do you want the soup? Because I want the soup. And we'd go just for that, and of course the free bread that came with it. That soup I believe was made of little more than tomatoes, basil, heavy cream, and romano cheese. To have achieved a soup with almost the same flavor and consistency, that's vegan and that I can cook myself, and that moreover is infinitely more healthy, is a thing of ecstasy. I will, and I repeat WILL, be making this soup again.

Whether or not I'll do it exactly the same way, well, that's matter of some debate.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Two oddities.

One: On the way home last night on the N, I saw an MTA poster. This, in and of itself, is not unusual in the least. What it said, though, was quite surprising: that beginning in 2015, the Second Avenue Subway would be relieving overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue lines. I read it a few times to make sure I was reading it right. I knew there were new contracts out, but I had no idea that they'd be so ambitious as to give a date to the general public. And about the date? At this point, what's seven more years?

Two: Tonight on the way home, I happened to spy a 7 train as we were pulling out of Queensboro Plaza. And what to my wondering eyes should appear? An advertisement. On the outside of the train. Right there on the side of the car. Apparently at this point it's simply not enough to put them above subway entrances, along hallways and tunnels in stations, on platforms, on the ceilings of some stations, and inside of the train cars everywhere that there's not a window or a door. No, obviously, that isn't quite enough surface area. Hell, it's practically restriction of trade.

Personally, I prefer the graffiti.

G train attempt: Post Script.

Well, I tried it. And after 40 minutes and the passing of 13 trains, I was forced to conclude that the G train was not going to appear. I started to feel like this guy. Something else I noticed: the V train was running. Usually on federal holidays the trains run on a Sunday schedule, but I suppose that isn't possible if the V train was running... yeah, things on the subway, they's weird.

Over and out.

You put the lime and the coconut... and the tofu.

Coconut milk: what can I say? I freakin' love it. Very few other flavors/substances pair so well with both the savory and the sweet. What else can you mix up with chocolate, or curry, or marshmallow, or lime, or or green chili paste, or lemongrass, or caramel, or avocado (oh yes) with equally delicious results? I can think of no other ingredient with the same range. And at the same time it provides unparalleled creaminess and body and flavor... but, actually, I'm not here to write a love letter to coconut milk.

I'm here to tell you about dinner! Where'd I get this recipe? Well I done gone and thought it up all my self. It all began when I started marinading some super-firm tofu chunks...

Coconut and Lime Happytimes, on rice.

  • 1 package superfirm tofu chunks, or, if you prefer, firm tofu well pressed and then cubed
  • stock of your preference (quantity explained below)
  • 1/8 cup tamari
  • juice of one lime (fresh, people! anything packaged does not taste the same.)
  • 1 tsp. green chili paste (or Thai green curry, this is predominately made of green chili paste) divided in half - more if you're not a spiciness wuss like I am
  • half of an onion, I like yellow, sliced in a thinness proportional to your hatred of raw onion (so, for me, pretty damn thin)
  • one bell pepper, roughly chopped, green being a good choice but you can feel free to mix it up (I used an orange pepper because it's what we had in the fridge)
  • one medium tomato, chunked
  • 1 14 oz. can coconut milk! make sure it's pure; nothing goofy, like reconstituted or with sugar added or any of that nonsense - just wonderful coconut milk as nature intended it... in a can
  • cooked rice, also of your preference - because, doesn't it really all come down to choice? - enough to serve as many people as you're planning to serve - but more than four would really be stretching one pack of tofu, don't you think?
  • salt to taste
  • Marinate your tofu cubes in the following: the tamari (you could use a quarter of a cup if you like things salty), one of your half-teaspoons of the chili paste, the juice of one lime, and then enough stock to almost cover your cubes. Let marinate for at least an hour or two, but for as long as overnight. I did it overnight.

  • When you're ready to get down to the cooking, throw your onion into a hot pan with a little bit of oil, because let's face it, isn't this the way we always start?
  • Once the onions are nice and golden and transparent and stuff, add in the bell pepper and tomato. (Like I said, I used an orange bell pepper; green would have added much more variety color-wise and a slightly different flavor, and wouldn't two or more colors of bells be just gorgeous? Red, yellow, and green: stoplight tofu!)

  • When the bell pepper and tomato have cooked down a bit, throw in your tofu cubes, marinade and all!
  • Add your second half-teaspoon of chili paste and mix in well.
  • Let the liquid cook down down down, all the way down; this takes some time. Do this over a medium flame, since your goal is not to boil off the liquid superfast but rather to let it simmer off, gentle like.

  • Once you're down to pretty much no liquid, add your coconut milk. Again, let it simmer - don't boil it! - simmer, simmer, and simmer all the way, for ten to fifteen minutes. Let sit for five minutes before serving.
This dish has a fairly soupy consistency, which is intentional; it works out well for putting it over rice. If you're using cold rice, say left over from last night's take out Chinese, give it 45 seconds in the microwave before ladling your tofu goodness on top.

Ta da! Coconutty limey tofuey goodness! Now go eat dinner.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Do the mushroom fantastic.

Hello poppets. What follows here is a modified, me-ified version of a recipe found in La Dolce Vegan (on golden pond mushroom soup, p. 105) - because, as we know, I can't actually just follow a recipe or anything crazy like that. I made it about four hundred times last fall and winter, with variations such as adding potatoes, and it sustained us through harsh cold ickyness. On Sunday night I made it for the first time this year, and I'd say I have my recipe just about perfect.

I would call my version magic mushroom soup, except for all the stupid unwanted hippie stoner pothead inferences there. Instead I think I'll call it Happy Dancing Mushroom Soup, in honor of those cute little guys from Fantasia. (Oh hush; the first one came out long before Disney was the nexus of evil.) If I post a picture I think Disney might sue me, but I'm gonna go ahead and do it anyway.


Anyway. I'm interested to see what happens there. And now, on to the soupness.

Happy Dancing Mushroom Soup!

  • 2 small onions; I prefer yellow (or one large - this is yours to choose... choose, and perish!), chopped, sliced, or otherwise rendered into small bits
  • 1 (one) 3.5 oz. container of shitake mushrooms, de-stemmed, fatly sliced
  • 2 (two) 8 oz. container of baby portobella mushrooms, also fatly sliced - your choice about the stems on these, I'm pro leaving them in, but shitake stems are unbearable

  • 1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 tsp. dried dill
  • 2 tsp. salt-free lemon pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups stock (I like Imagine Organic un-chicken broth, or Rapunzel makes several flavors of vegan bouillon cubes, one of which nicely flavors two cups of water, but then you need a second pot...)
  • 3 cups unsweetened plain almond milk (the very best one is Blue Diamond, and for this recipe original flavor as opposed to vanilla, fo sho.)
  • Saute, or caramelize, if you will, the onions in a little oil until they're cooked enough to eat - it brings out the flavor, and besides raw onions are the bane of my existence. Do this in the pot you plan on using for the finished soup product, since this is a one pot kinda soup.
  • Add in all of the mushroom slices - this will be quite a quantity, and that's alright. Cook them down for a few to several minutes; as they're cooking down add the tamari, dill, lemon pepper, and paprika.
  • Once the mushrooms are quite cooked down and have released a substantial amount of liquid - yes, they will - stir in your flour. Do this quickly and once it's in don't dawdle. It will form a sort of chunky mushroom paste.
  • Add in the first cup of stock immediately once you get your paste at an even consistency. Bring the mixture up to a simmer.

  • (This is about what it looks like after the addition of the first cup of stock.)
  • Add in the second cup of stock, and bring to a simmer once more. Follow the same procedure with the almond milk, adding one cup at a time. Be careful always to only bring to a simmer, never to a boil. If the soup boils, it will "break" - the flour will separate from the oil it has bonded to, and each will float at the surface of your soup in weird little bubble pods instead of infusing it and making it creamy. Guess how I know?
  • Once all five cups of liquid have been added, let the pot simmer (simmer not boil!) for ten to fifteen minutes.
  • Turn off heat; let sit five to ten minutes before serving.

(Mmm, Happy Mushroom Soup!)

Makes 4 to 8 servings, depending on how gluttonous you are. Me, I'm pretty gluttonous, and I like eating out of these here Chinese soup bowls with the special spoons... so I get about three servings. So it goes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

G train attempt: post script.

Well, I tried it. And after 40 minutes and the passing of 13 trains, I was forced to conclude that the G train was not going to appear. I started to feel like this guy. Something else I noticed: the V train was running. Usually on federal holidays the trains run on a Sunday schedule, but I suppose that isn't possible if the V train was running... yeah, things on the subway, they's weird.

Over and out.

The Kill Counter. (VeganMoFo day 13 - happy Columbus Day!

It appears that the San Francisco vegans have developed a gruesome little gadget. It runs a death count of standard livestock animals (chickens, pigs, cows, and so forth), which starts at 0 when a webpage (such as a blog) is opened. Each animal's number then increases at a startlingly rapid rate, as calculated from actual annual averages. I tried to put it into this post, but despite the source code being html I just couldn't get it to work. It works fine as a sidebar addition, but honestly it's not the kind of thing I want in my sidebar. A little too in-your-face "omnivores are murderers" for me.

I do find it pretty interesting, though. I think few people have any clue as to just how many animals are actually slaughtered each day for food. In fact, I'm guessing that few people have realized there even are that many of these animals in existence at any given time, much less available to be made into chicken nuggets. If I decide to put this counter up anywhere, it will be on one of my pages that is not predominately visited by vegans; we already know about these disturbing figures. It'll be on my myspace, or my not-specifically-food-related-blog, so that maybe it'll reach an audience that doesn't just go, "yup".

Anyway. You should check it out. It seems that they did some pretty intense research and number crunching to come up with their figures, all based on information provided by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. It's good to see people relying on data from impartial sources, rather than from well meaning and very possibly accurate but very obviously biased organizations, like, say, PETA. They include a paper-type-document in PDF form that they generated in their research, and in it is this fancy pie chart, which illustrates the proportions of each common food animal as far as number slaughtered:

I think it's fair to say that chickens have it rough... and that we're creating a really incredible number of them. It's not as if they're just procreating at this rate without any assistance from us.

When you look at these figures, it's so hard not to say, no way, that can't be right. It's just not possible. For example, I just opened up the SFVegan page a few minutes ago, and already the chickens count is over 700,000. But not only is it possible; it's happening. It's fact. Impossible and incomprehensible, as we've unfortunately seen time and time again in this world, are two entirely different things.

I'm gonna try it.

The G train, oh the G train. Conceived in brilliance - a train that will travel between Brooklyn and Queens without wandering through Manhattan on the way! Genius. Extremely obvious genius, since Brooklyn and Queens share a landmass and are really quite close together as the bird flies, and Manhattan is a separate island, but still - there is literally no other train that will make this amazing feat of a journey.

Sadly, neither will the G train. Not really. Not anymore.

OK, so even at the worst of times it does still *technically* go from Brooklyn to Queens. But it so barely skims Queens that it really barely even counts, stopping at Court Square in the bottom of Long Island City and then turning right around. Total crap says I, and says many of us, in fact - there's even a coalition determined to right this and other G train wrongs.

So why did this happen? How does a train's route become thus truncated? The simple fact is that trains are re-routed all the time; they switch termini (like the B and D did once upon a time, as did the N and R), they go through this tunnel instead of that one. The network of trains is a living organism, constantly reorganizing itself, theoretically with the purpose of best serving its riding population.

Things started getting rough for the G train in 1997 - "due to construction" - oldest story in the MTA bedside reader. Service landed itself a northern termination at Court Square on evenings, nights, and weekends then because of construction in the infamous 63rd street line. In 2001 when the Connection opened, the G train went back to regular service and everyone was happy forever and ever! Oh, wait, no. Actually, the V train was introduced, and suddenly there was no room for the G train on the Queens tracks. The E, the F, and the R already ran those same tracks; it was the G or the V, and the V won... because the V goes into Manhattan.

This is apparently when they came up with the brilliant plan of running the G its full distance at backwards times, on evenings, nights, and weekends - but with truncated trains. They took cars from each train so that there would be more trains overall coming more frequently... and nevermind that each one would be more crowded, and that they wouldn't reach the platform ends.

In 2007/2008, things have gotten really bad: they're stating that there will be no service to 71st Avenue in Forest Hills "until further notice". People, I believe that this is the end. I've ridden the G north of Court Square once or twice, but I truly don't know if it's ever going to happen again. I have to try though, and I'm going to try today.

You see, today is a federal holiday, in honor of some crazy Italian guy who was funded by an even crazier queen of Spain to sail a ship the wrong way to get to India - which he quite believed he had done. He then proceeded to victoriously "discover" a land where there were already tens of thousands of people living... who the English later showed up and promptly killed by any means possible up to and including sneezing on them. American History is awesome.

Anyway, point being that by some logic completely beyond us, sometimes on federal holidays things revert back to normal. All "construction" and other nonsense is suspended and things happen as they should. Trains run on a 'Sunday Schedule', and on Sundays the G should be stopping at the Broadway / Steinway stop, which happens to be a convenient 15 minute walk from my house. So, I'm gonna go there. And wait a while. And see if one comes by. If it does, well! I got myself a train ride. And if it doesn't, then there are grim realities that I must face.

Wish me luck! Here I go.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Unimaginable: A day in the life of my family.

Be warned - this post is unpleasant. The faint of heart need not apply.

I mentioned in passing recently that there was yet another tragedy in the clan last week. The story goes something like this.

My grandmother ran a foster home, into which my father was adopted. Aside from foster children and adopted children, that grandma also had two biological children. One of them managed to turn out fairly normal, despite tumultuous home life. The other shows the wholly unnatural stresses that adolescence wrought upon him, the details of which I'll not go into here. We'll call him D.

D was a brother to my father, and for all intents and purposes they are blood. Together they witnessed the death of their father. Together they slept in a cramped bed for ten years.

D cracked young and cracked hard, but it didn't stop him from wanting to do things right: from wanting to get married and have a family of his own, and so to finally have the home life that was absent to him in childhood. As a partner he found someone equally damaged and unfit for parenthood; to them were born three children.

The eldest, a girl, shares my name but little else. The details of her life are fuzzy to me, but I believe she managed to have a bastard child in her teen years. Nevertheless, her life is relatively stable. The youngest of the three, whose namesake quite directly is my father, watched the mistakes of the other two and chose to bow out. Led a quiet life, and is doing alright now.

But the middle child, oh, the woe he has brought to his parents and to the world. He is my age. By his teens he had managed to get involved in gang activity (Bloods orCrips ? This was never clear in the family), become addicted to heroin, and oh yes, have a child. And he's been plodding along, and somehow has had the same partner all these years - apparently she's a junkie too. They've had a second child, fifteen months ago now, a younger sibling for the fourteen year old son. Apparently the couple fights, though, enough so that recently she was moved to phone the police and tell a fib that he was "drunk and disorderly".

Well, the police looked up the name, and whether he was drunk or not, he sure did have a warrant out for his arrest - seems that there was some community service he'd been assigned to somewhere along the way that had never gotten served. A warrant is a warrant, and away to Orleans Parish Prison he went. Having been prescribed Methadone for the past 11 years, he was placed in the hospital wing.

This is where the story gets fuzzy.

The ending is always the same though. My cousin is dead.

The report that was given to his parents (by the coroner when he went to their house) was this: that my cousin had hung himself. With a towel. Now, immediately many questions spring to mind. One: is it even possible to hang one's self with a towel? He wasn't a huge guy, but he wasn't slight; a towel is not exactly built to hold weight. Two: if it even is possible, wouldn't it take a minute to set up? Or like, many many minutes? So, like, was there any kind of supervision whatsoever that would have noticed something like, say, a guy trying to rig a towel-noose from the pipes on the ceiling?

One way or another he was in Methadone withdrawal; whether this is because he was trying to kick it himself or because they wouldn't give it to him in the hospital is unclear. Either way, it is well established that Methadone withdrawal is wildly unpleasant - much worse, in fact, than withdrawal from heroin, the addiction that it is meant to cure.

Which brings me to my angriest point. There is some doctor, doctor!, in Louisiana, who took this at most 19 year old kid who was on junk. And instead of just throwing him in a room for a week and making him sweat it out and then placing him in a program where he'd be carefully watched, he assigned to that kid a lifelong, detrimental, extremely expensive (and therefore extremely profitable) addiction to supplement the one he already had. Why do I say supplement? Find me a Methadone addict who doesn't still also push heroin, and I'll give you twenty dollars. I have it on good authority -indubitable authority, in fact - that my cousin was no exception.

Methadone is not a cure; they've known that since the 70's if not for longer. So why, in the name of god, was my cousin put on this shit in 1997? And kept on it for more than a decade? Yes, I'm angry. This isn't medicine. This is doctors, doctors!, putting money directly into the pockets of pharmaceutical companies, and risking lives in the process.

My learning of this incident, or what we know of it anyway, began in the form of a voicemail. It was from my father; he sounded shattered. Said little. "Hey babe. You should give us a call. We have something to tell you." That was it. And my heart fell into my stomach, because my father never sounds like that. And my first thought, the one that persisted for the six minute walk before me and threw me into a fairly violent panic attack that made it difficult to function, was that my sister was dead.

I got to a place where I could be inside and sit down and I made the call, and of course quickly found out that the matter wasn't related to my sister. Immediately I was relieved, and shortly thereafter realized that there are, at this moment, both an older sister and a younger brother living the reality that I was so terrified to potentially face. What I thought might be for six minutes, they will live with that absolute truth heavily leaning upon their hearts for the rest of their lives.

They've long known that their brother was on the wrong path, but did they ever stop hoping that he would find his way? Of course they didn't. Did they fear getting this phone call each and every day? Of course they did. For the things he's done, it's impossible not to. And can any of that dull the pain of losing a sibling at 30 years old? Not one bit.

We have not been close; I haven't seen any of them in years. That family has always been difficult - makes mine look like a cake walk behind a white picket fence, with cherries. But they are my family, and I remember Christmases and Thanksgivings and Easters and St. Patrick's days with them. I remember basketball games in front of the old shed out back, and climbing the fence to get a peek into the neighbor's yard - that neighbor being David Duke, believe it or not. I remember him before innocence was lost.

I am not the praying kind, but if you are, my cousin's is as lost a soul as any there ever was, and he can use all of the prayers that mouths and hearts can say.

This one's for Lindyloo.

What can I tell you? It's a VeganMoFo thing.

p.s. - for the version of this post where I answer dirty questions, go here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ode to Sam, the Juice Cart Man. (VeganMoFo day 10 - TGIF!)

Alright. I know that in various posts over the past two years or so, I've mentioned my favorite juice cart in passing more than once. But Sam deserves better. For the delicious nutrition in the vast void of midtown which he provides to me and to so many others, he deserves proper recognition. He deserves... a post of his own.

Food carts are a dime a dozen in midtown Manhattan, of course. They sell nuts covered in sugar, they sell doughnuts and coffee and bagels, they sell hot dogs and pretzels, they sell various piles of meat and vegetables and rice fried on a flat-top and served up in styrofoam containers. But none that I've found are like this little gem at the corner of 48th and 3rd. Unlike other juice stands, Sam doesn't sell any crap to supplement his juices - no "bubble teas" or ice cream nonsense. His cart is stocked from wall to wall with produce - apples, oranges, carrots, kale, parsley, strawberries, cabbage, grapefruit, cucumbers, lemons, beets, celery, mango, watermelon - you name it, he's got it, and he'll put it in the juicer for you.

It's obvious that the focus at this stand is health. If the amazing array of colorful fruits and vegetables on display don't make you think it initially, it'll get driven home as soon as you happen to wander around the side. There you'll find a list of common ailments, and the corresponding juices that are best to help treat them. No rocket science or voodoo or new age b.s. here, just simple nutrition - a blend supercharged with vitamin C to help fight off a cold, for instance.

Sam has a special secret too, that only devout patrons know about: in the winters, Sam makes soup. He alternates between a vegetable soup and a lentil soup. They're both awesome, he serves both with a slice of bread and a wedge of lemon, he sells them for half the ridiculous price of most midtown delis, and... yes, you know it - they're both vegan! On cold and dreary days, Sam's soup is a dream come true. It warms my belly and makes even my sunless office seem hospitable again. (Granted, I'm sitting in a better spot now, so maybe this winter won't be so rough...) On Wednesday, while getting my large carrot-orange-celery, I asked if there was soup yet - he said not quite yet, but soon. I await it eagerly.

I have a lot of respect for Sam as a businessman. He obviously came to the U.S. seeking "a better life", as people always have and still do. And running a food cart is no easy living. I'm sure he works a 12 hour day, bare minimum; he's almost always there alone. Those carts have to be moved in and out each day, which is no small task. From what I understand you purchase the cart, and then have to go through licensing, and you're then basically operating a small business without the advantage of a permanent storefront but with many of the disadvantages of a physical location.

Last year he was gone for a couple of days for his health inspection; once he came back they started hassling him about where he gets his produce. Sure they have a job to do, but his produce is completely visible to everyone who walks up - it's obviously fresh. So what, do they think he's stealing it or something? Anyway. Sam fights the good fight and works hard on his feet all day, and still manages to smile at everyone and be on a first-name basis with many of his regulars. In NYC, that's just not something you necessarily expect.

Needless to say, I am quite the frequent customer over at Sam's juice cart. (Actually it's one of the big things I was excited about as far as returning to my old job.) And of course, I think you should be too. Nutritionally speaking, fresh juices are vastly superior to anything packaged. And if you're interested in keeping money in your community instead of giving it to mega-corps, then Sam is a much better choice than, say, Odwalla*cough*coca-cola*cough.

And in conclusion, juice is awesome, and soup is awesome, so that makes Sam awesome squared.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pencils ready? Pop quiz! (VeganMoFo day 9)

Ha ha, just kidding. It's not so much a quiz as a survey that was posted by a cute girl named Liz who writes a blog called Food Snobbery is my Hobbery. And since I do indeed enjoy writing about myself and the food I eat to what is probably an unhealthy extent, I thought, what the hell? Even though it is a little myspace, but, you know, whatev.

1. Name a song that involves food in some way.
Cibo Matto has the market cornered on this one - after all their name does mean "food crazy". My personal favorites are "sugar water", "birthday cake", and "know your chicken".

2. What criteria do you use when choosing a new cookbook to buy?
Is it fucking awesome? That's pretty much the beginning and the end, since I have a pathological inability to stick to a recipe and there's so much available on theinternets anyway.

3. What did you eat today?
Talk to me later.

4. Name a vegan food that you know exists but you have never tried.
Vegan shark fin soup. Its existence upsets me to the point of offence, and for a year or two I referred to it as "the soup that shall not be named." I'm not planning on trying it.

5. The Food Network just called and needs you to start your new show tomorrow. What will the title of the show be?
I can't believe it's not animals!

6. Favorite hot sauce or other spicy condiment?
Tobasco! Keepin' it real, yo. We were a Tobasco household, not a Crystal household - when you're from Louisiana you have to choose one or the other. Plus I have a lot of respect for them; they're still operating as a family business on this tiny little island, even after the storm. Plus plusTobasco sauce is awesome and tastes good and makes red beans and rice da bomb.

7. How old were you when you became vegetarian/vegan?
Dabbled in vegetarianism from the time I was 14, dabbled in veganism from the time I was 24, finally got my head straight and went full blown vegan at 28.

8. Favorite vegan cheeze?
Follow Your Heart mozzerella - sorry Teese, but I still haven't seen you melt properly.

9. Cutest baby animal?
Liz, I think I like you, but I'm going to have to call dumb question on you. All baby animals are cute, with the express biological purpose of keeping their mothers from eating or abandoning them - up to and including human ones. That said, kittens kittens kittens!

10. Favorite type of jam/jelly/marmalade/preserves?
My fiance's parents live in the mountains of far western Virginia, and of late a lot of Amish have moved in. All of the preserves found in their general store are prettyrockin... except for the apple ones, which are way too sweet.

11. Do you take any vitamins/supplements?
I sporadically-to-regularly take Emergen-C. I believe that it's good, even if the diagrams on the box are some of the worst pseudo-science I've ever seen. At the very least it makes a tasty beverage -SuperOrange flavor all the way!

12. What food/dish most embodies the Fall season?
Hmm. I can't narrow it down to one food; really anything that feels hearty and restorative and warming. Or definitely anything (that isn't curry) with pumpkin pie-type spices: you know, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom...

13. What food would you have a hard time living without?
Most of them. But sugar is the only thing that I have serious withdrawal from. You should see it - I jones like a junke. It's pitiful.

14. Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate?
Coffee most mornings, unless it's a gentle morning where I'm sick or don't have to do much that morning in which case tea. In the evenings or afternoons or when I'm sad or cold, peppermint (NOT spearmint or mixed mint) tea. Sometimes when I'm feeling a specific kind of meditative, jasmine pearls in my glass french press, so that I can watch them unfurl in the hot water. When it's cold out, especially if there are Christmas lights up, and I'm feeling a specific kind of sad or nostalgic or festive, hot chocolate. You know, I may be slightly emotionally connected to my food.

15. It's 10PM and you're starving. What do you eat?
Have I baked something in the past day? Then probably that. No? Hmm. Any bread around? Old crackers? Bananas? Leftovers in the fridge? Maybe I'll just graze...

16. If you have an animal companion, what is his/her favorite food?
When I had dogs, they thought baby carrots were a real treat. My cat, Monkey, who lives 1200 miles away in the loving care of a dear friend but who I still consider my cat, loves nothing more than to get his head up under the kitchen faucet and lick the little bit of water that is inevitably trickling out. He's been doing it since he was a kitten.

17. Worst injury you've gotten in the kitchen?
Years ago, when I was doing dishes, a glass sort of exploded in my hand. It cut through the top part of the proximal-most knuckle of my right thumb, managed to sever halfway through the tendon, and required internal and external stitches. That was a blast. The scar makes a little half-moon.

18. When you have a food-related question, who do you call?
Totally depends on the question, but if it's cooking it's my fiance (not that I have to call him, other than from the kitchen to the living room). He's been vegan for three times as long as me, and he used to work as a line cook. Every now and then, for the truly old-school knowledge, I gotta call mom.

19. Summer is ending- What food will you miss most?
The fruits that are actually in season instead of hothoused or shipped up from South America - I don't really dig that.

20. What snacks do you keep in your purse/backpack/desk at work?
I'm big on granola bars, and these bars that are peanuts and sunflower seeds stuck together with sugar.

21. Favorite soup to make on a rainy day?
Depends on the season - there's a dill and mushroom soup, and sometimes we do a miso, but our most frequent soup is a frankenstein vegetable. I swear next summer I'm gonna make my mom's gazpacho.

22. What's your favorite combination of fresh vegetable and/or fruit juices?
I always start off with carrot - carrot orange celery is good, or carrot orange beet. For a more vegetable-ey thing, I'll do carrot beet kale... honestly my juice cart guy is awesome and the list of combinations are endless and I love juice.

23. Favorite brand of root beer?
I really only drink diet root beer, and there's some good ones out there but I can't think of them right now because it's two o'clock in the morning.

24. Make up your own question!
OK, I will. Here goes: What is your favorite vegan junkfood indulgence?
There are these wafer cookies. You know the kind, with the "cookie" part that's sort of a cross between a communion wafer and biodegradable styrofoam, and "creme filling" that's actually just vegetable shortening and an incredible amount of sugar blended together. Well, there's a line of these Croatian wafer cookies at the EuroMarket around the corner from our house - part of the glory of living in Astoria - and I'm telling you, these things will be my doom. I can eat a whole box, which is supposed to be like 20 servings or something, in a sitting. Well over a day's worth of calories in one of those boxes. There was about a week there where I was eating a box a day... man, coming off of that was like coming off of a crack binge... But damn if those aren't some good cookies.