Friday, May 31, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - Uptown Coney Island


After a day of thrift shopping, Craig and I needed a bit of sustenance. We were near Uptown Coney Island, so decided to stop there for dinner; a bit of comfort food, and a menu with a great deal of variety, sounded ideal.

You don't go to a diner for healthy options, so I didn't even bother looking at the array of salads. I ordered the Grilled Ham and Cheese pictured above, which came with pickles and chips for $4.99. A plain grilled cheese - triple stacked with your choice of American. Swiss, or Cheddar - costs $3.99. Or you could indulge in the classic BLT for $4.99.

A small order of the Chili Cheese Fries costs $3.29; a large costs $3.99. These were really good, as the fries were nice and crispy and held up to the chili. Often the fries are neglected in this dish (yes, I've tried enough samples to be able to discuss this!), since they're just getting buried anyway. But it's infinitely better when the fries are sturdy instead of soggy.

Craig ordered the Coney Island because, of course, it's what these places do best! A single costs $1.99, and the Coney Special - topped with seasoned ground beef, chili, mustard, and onions - can be enjoyed for $2.99. Add fries, cole slaw, or soup for $1.59, or add cheese for 39 cents. The onion rings cost $3.49, ordered separately.

There are other options at Uptown Coney Island that qualify for our mandatory $5 per person Frugal Floozie Friday budget: a Cheese Quesadilla costs $4.99; soup is available for $1.99 (cup) or $2.99 (bowl); and chili for $2.29 (cup) or $3.09 (bowl). A cheeseburger costs $4.99.

Breakfast also offers many inexpensive choices: a cheese omelette for $4.79; a cinnamon roll for $2.39; a bagel with cream cheese for $2.29; or a short stack of pancakes with either blueberries or pecans for $4.49. The Bagel Breakfast - two eggs with bacon or ham or sausage, a choice of cheese, and hash browns - costs only $3.99. And Donna's Biscuits & Sausage Gravy with hash browns or two eggs is only $4.99.

And, of course, don't forget dessert; options range from baklava for $1.99 to slices of pie ($2.99-3.99), homemade Rice Pudding for $2.29 to the Brownie Delight (a sundae) for $3.59.

A very friendly, welcoming place with good food for good prices, Uptown Coney Island is definitely worth a visit!

Uptown Coney Island
3917 Jackson Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
734-665-5909
Monday - Saturday: 7 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Sunday: 7 a.m. - 4 p.m.



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Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Dishes


It's Memorial Day - a day to remember those who've served our country and sacrificed their lives for it ... for us.

Many people will be marching in parades or planting flags or somehow commemorating the occasion, and they'll get hungry. So here are some recipes for you, or for those who are relishing the day off - and their freedom - at barbecues or picnics.

These dishes, from the sweet to the savory, will do honor to your festivities, whatever they may be.

Red, White, and Blueberry Sangria

Strawberry Shortcake

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

Berries with Sweetened Sour Cream

Blueberry Pancakes

Blueberry Bread Pudding

Grilled Chicken with Spiced Blueberry BBQ Sauce

Blueberry Streusel Cake

Pomegranate-Marinated Chicken with Honey-Grilled Pineapple

Bacon Cheese Mix-In Burgers

Friday, May 24, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - NeoPapalis


I had a fabulous Girls' Night Out recently with my BFF Wendy and our new friend (who seemed immediately like an old friend!) Vicki. Both eat a vegan diet, so I wanted to find a restaurant we could all enjoy without having to impose too greatly upon the kitchen or leave my dining companions with only a few meager options.

Fortunately, NeoPapalis - one of Ann Arbor's newest pizza places - offers a little something for everyone ... and at prices which happily meet our Frugal Floozie Friday budget of $5 per person.

There are four basic pizzas to choose from, costing either $6 or $7, which easily feed at least two people.  A few toppings - butter crust, oregano, or a four pepper olive oil - are available for free, while others cost $1 each.

The $6 Red Marinara version comes with tomato sauce, sliced Romano tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, roasted garlic, oregano, and sea salt ... and it comes with no cheese. It was perfect!

To the left, you'll see the "as is" version that Wendy chose; to the right, you'll see the one I ordered with caramelized onions and Kalamata olives. At the top of the post is Vicki's pizza, topped with pineapple and green and red peppers. Each of these allowed two slices per person, as we mixed and matched and took home leftovers. You could add more toppings if you're hungry, but the pizza is delicious even with no frills.

You could supplement your pizza with a $5 salad, and still stay within budget by sharing lunch or dinner with loved ones. The base price offers a salad large enough to feed a small family, and the following items are even included at no charge (choose whichever ones you like): sliced mushrooms, cucumbers, red onions, green and red peppers, Kalamata olives, Roma tomatoes, roasted garlic, broccoli, beets, Jalapeno peppers, hot pepper rings, pineapple, and artichokes. Cheeses cost $1 each, meat items cost $1.50 each, and dressing options beyond Ranch, the house vinaigrette, Chipotle Ranch, or Balsamic Vinaigrette cost an extra 75 cents. Pizza and a hearty vegetable-laden salad make an exceptional meal to share with your family or friends at very little cost!

I also ordered the sweet potato fries, for a mere $3, because I adore them.  Most places offer soft, baked versions; NeoPapalis' fries, however, are crisp and served with a Chipotle Ranch dipping sauce that is an ideal, spicy complement. I devoured these, and continue to fight cravings for more. They are a great appetizer to share before pizza or salad, or make an excellent snack all by themselves with a $1.50 soda, lemonade, or iced tea.

I'd had such a lovely meal with Vicki and Wendy that I brought Jeremy and Craig to NeoPapalis soon after for lunch. Craig ordered a $5 pita sandwich which, unfortunately, wasn't particularly photogenic although it was enormous. For the base price, you get a nearly foot-long meal containing one meat, one cheese, one dressing, and any vegetables from a list of sixteen - yes, sixteen potential additions for no extra money. If you want extra cheeses, they cost $1 each; extra meats cost $1.50 each. But trust me, they're superfluous - the basic sandwich is huge.

Jeremy ordered the $7 Bianca pizza: an herb butter base, Asiago and Mozzarella cheeses, extra-virgin olive oil, and honey. He topped it with bacon, because he's my child. This was rich, delicious, and easily splittable by 2-4 to stay well within our mandatory Frugal Floozie Friday budget. Even Jeremy, a 22-year old male - a species notorious for its appetite! - advocates for sharing something this hearty.

I ordered the sweet potato fries again, because I like them so much, and split them with Craig and with Jeremy. I'm not ordinarily a creature of habit (at least with food), but this time I couldn't help it.

For great values, good fresh food, and a menu that is inviting to virtually any diet, NeoPapalis is a welcome addition to town!


NeoPapalis
500 E. William St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
734-929-2227
Sunday - Thursday: 11 a.m. - 12 a.m.
Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. - 12:30 a.m.



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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Goin' to "Jail" and Need to Make Bail!




There's a warrant out for my arrest, and I need your help to raise bail!

Fortunately, it's for a good cause. And my "jail" on June 13, the day of the Muscular Dystrophy Association's annual Lock-Up, will actually be Outback Steakhouse ... a far better place, offering much better food, than a cell with bars where I'd only get bread and water.

Every year, the MDA "arrests" people and asks them to raise "bail" - contributions to the very good cause:

The Lock-Up is the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s premier fundraising program. These high-profile events occur all across the country at various times throughout the year. Business and community leaders agree to be "put behind bars for good," where they utilize their vendors, co-workers, family and friends to get donations that will go toward their “bail.” Each Jailbird has weeks to raise their donations. That way, on the day of the Lock-Up event, they can enjoy the Lock-Up experience by networking with other business leaders and meeting with the individuals and families that they’re helping in their community. All funds raised by the MDA Lock-Up assist the Association in providing lifesaving research, a nationwide network of medical clinics and accessible summer camp experiences to individuals and families affected by neuromuscular diseases.

So, what are you waiting for? Please, please, please go to my personal donation page and help me make bail!

Now, I admit that I'm looking forward to doing some schmoozing and noshing with fellow jailbirds at Outback Steakhouse; I spoke with one of the managers, Meghan, who told me that the event menu will include chicken on the barbie, potatoes, salad and - sigh - cheesecake. I'm looking forward to spending time at a restaurant that is committed to "community involvement" and which is supporting such an excellent organization as the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

But I still need to make bail!

I'm willing to do the time, so please help me in doing some good. Any and all donations are welcome, and are gratefully appreciated - thank you SO MUCH!!!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Banana Cheesecake Egg Rolls


Jeremy, Craig, and I went out to eat with my parents last week; my father is suffering from congestive heart failure, and he's not doing well. Yesterday, though, was his 86th birthday!

While at lunch, I was fixated upon egg rolls even though we weren't eating at a Chinese restaurant. I'd looked at the menu online ahead of time - with some hope of being able to narrow down my options, given my infamous lack of decision-making ability when presented with too many delicious things to try - and found two particularly noteworthy items: a Reuben egg roll and the Banana Caramel Fried Cheesecake.

The former, of course, was an egg roll stuffed with corned beef and sauerkraut, served with Thousand Island dressing; and yes, it was as good as it sounds! (Or, at least, that's what Jeremy told me.) Making our own version is high on the "to do" list.

The latter was a crisp, banana-and-cheesecake-filled egg roll, served with a drizzle of caramel sauce. And, well ... since I have a pretty hefty sweet tooth, I needed to make my own. This one jumped to #1 on the "to do" list.

Sweet, creamy, crispy, and with the caramel sauce to complement it, this is a dessert that completely seduces you!

My father didn't order any dessert on the day we met for lunch. He wasn't very hungry - that's what he told our waitress, anyway. He ordered just a cup of chili ... but then he ordered, and ate, a second one, too ... :)


Banana Cheesecake Egg Rolls

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
4 small bananas, divided
12 egg roll wrappers
oil for frying
caramel sauce, for serving (use this recipe to make your own, or purchase a jar)

In a large mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese, egg, vanilla, sugar, and 2 bananas with an electric mixer; mixture will not be completely smooth. Stir in remaining 2 bananas, mashed.

In a very large skillet, heat 1" oil over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles when splashed into it.

One by one, lay an egg roll wrapper onto the countertop; place 1/4 cup banana filling into the center.


Fold the sides of the wrapper over the filling.


Fold the closest edge up.


Holding the furthest edge up a bit, continue to roll up from the closest edge. (The filling is fairly liquid, though it cooks up nicely when the egg rolls are fried; so you will need to balance the egg roll a bit while rolling it, to keep the filling inside rather than having it ooze out.)


Dampen the visible edge with a bit of water to help seal.


Place the egg rolls into the oil and cook for 3 minutes per side, until golden. Drain on paper towels, then serve with caramel sauce.



Friday, May 17, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - Cardamom


My dear friend Marcie joined Jeremy and me at Cardamom recently; Marcie and I had been counting down 'til it opened, and Jeremy was happy to share in the adventure of trying a brand spankin' new restaurant.

Marcie, unfortunately, suffers from numerous food allergies and intolerances; so Cardamom's menu - which provides a code indicating which items are vegetarian or vegan, which can be made gluten-free or vegan, which ones contain nuts or gluten - makes ordering much easier for those who need to be careful with their diets. Our waitress, Grace, was wonderfully helpful, too, in answering questions and checking with the kitchen to find out information about ingredients.

We ended up ordering an array of items from the lunch menu (available Tuesday - Friday 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.) to try numerous dishes. The dinner menu is more extensive and costs a bit extra because of larger servings; the lunch menu offers some sandwiches and other quick items, as it is designed to facilitate a fast meal - but not typical "fast food" - for busy folks who need to get back to work for the afternoon.

The vegetarian thali (pictured above) costs only $10 and is absolutely generous enough for two, to meet our mandatory Frugal Floozie Friday budget of $5 per person. I ate a huge lunch from this platter, shared tastes, and still had enough food to bring home for another meal the next day. There were dishes of chickpeas, cauliflower, spinach, and lentils; rice and naan; chutney and pickles; and even dessert, the creamy and fragrant rice pudding.

All but one of the appetizers comes in under budget, so we ordered the Vegetable Pakora (left; potatoes, onions, spinach, and cauliflower) and Onion Bhaji (right) for $4 each.  I could happily have made a lunch from either of these, or divvied them up to enjoy a plate of half-and-half. The fried fritters, dipped in a chickpea flour batter, come with both tamarind and mint chutneys for dipping, and were excellent.

A full serving of the cardamom-infused rice pudding costs $3.50. Jeremy ordered the Gulab Jamun - fried balls of dough in a sweet, rose-scented syrup - which also costs $3.50, and which he enjoyed immensely; I was fortunate to be given a small taste, to see how good they were.

You could also order a cup of soup for $3, a generously-portioned side salad for $4 (the lime vinaigrette, one of three choices for a dressing, was lovely and bright), one of the numerous beverages (the mango lassi for $3.50 was rich and creamy), or one of the luscious desserts (most of which come in under budget, or could easily be shared with a loved one).

I love Indian food, so it's wonderful to welcome another restaurant offering this fabulous cuisine!




Cardamom
1739 Plymouth Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
734-662-2877
Tuesday - Thursday: 11 a.m. - 3 p.m., 5 - 10 p.m.
Friday - Sunday: 11 a.m. - 3 p.m., 5 - 10:30 p.m.
Closed Mondays



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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Memphis in May Tribute - Good Luck to "Too Sauced to Pork"!


Jenn, of Jenn's Food Journey, and I have talked a lot about meeting at Memphis in May - a fabulous festival which boasts the supreme World Championship BBQ Contest (otherwise known as The Super Bowl of Swine!).  It starts tomorrow.

Neil Gallagher, of the prize-winning team Too Sauced to Pork, has offered to keep my name on his booth's guest list for two years now, which would enable me to eat to my little heart's content (since local health regulations prevent teams from feeding attendees, unless they're invited). I'd even planned to become a team member, helping in whatever way I could, even though my primary skills to offer are only sauce stirring and schmoozing with visitors. Neil and his buddies were accepting dishwashers, servers, choppers, and especially barbecue mavens to help with the effort; any skill, as long as it was offered generously, was welcomed. And they also planned to teach willing newbies like li'l ol' me, sharing the secrets to world class barbecue.

I saved and I planned and I dreamt ... but, alas, once again "real life" has intruded upon my little fantasy and has prevented my getting to Memphis for the party. Jenn isn't able to go this year either, although we were in serious negotiations about the trip - and about finally meeting in the real world, not only chatting in cyberspace - just a few months ago.

"Disappointed" is a woefully inadequate word to describe my dejection. The food, the aromas, the fun, the ambience, the festivities, the allure, the friendships ... everything was luring me down there. I scoped out restaurants along the way, and even across the state lines in Mississippi and Arkansas, too, planning my eating adventures and whetting my appetite.

Instead of getting sunburned and feasting gluttonously on pork and other goodies, though, I will be at home where family responsibilities beckon. (And if I seem to be a bit a.w.o.l. - waaaaaay behind on reading, commenting, and staying in touch - this is why. I've been serving as the figurative ham 'n' cheese in the "Sandwich Generation," with duties as both parent and child; and Craig's very sweet dog, Sammi, sadly was put to sleep last week.)

But the holiday of Shavuot [shah-voo-OHT] - which celebrates the bestowing of the Torah - began at sundown last night. I will eat traditional dairy foods, enjoy a few days off (the Jewish holiday in addition to time that I'd taken in anticipation of my trip), and have fun while also trying not to pout too much.

So Jenn and I will be in Memphis, at least in spirit! We have teamed up to offer "good luck" posts today to Neil and the team, as well as to everyone enjoying the party. I'm not a bar-b-cutie by any means - I don't own a smoker, and I don't devote days to injecting, rubbing, and mopping any of my foods. I simply grill, and do so impatiently, too, despite knowing that I should just leave things to cook over the heat without fidgeting and nudging.

But even though I'm not a world-class barbecuer, this simple, flavorful chicken and pineapple meal is a great way to celebrate the start of the grilling season!

(If you'd like to support Too Sauced to Pork, you can buy team-related clothes and other goodies here.)

Pomegranate-Marinated Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/3 cup pomegranate vinaigrette
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce
2 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place chicken breasts into a gallon-sized freezer baggie. Combine remaining ingredients, then pour over chicken. Seal bag, turn to coat, then refrigerate chicken for a minimum of 2 hours. Remove chicken from baggie and discard marinade.

Heat grill to medium-high. Place chicken away from flames and cook 10 minutes per side. For last minute on each side, place over flame to encourage grill marks. Remove chicken from grill and let rest for 5 minutes, then slice.

Makes 4 servings.



Honey-Grilled Pineapple

1 pineapple
1/3 cup honey

Trim top and bottom from pineapple; stand it upright and trim rind from sides. Turn pineapple on its side and cut into 6 slices.

Heat grill to medium-high. Place pineapple slices away from flames, drizzle with some honey, and cook for 6-7 minutes until starting to tenderize. Flip pineapple over, drizzle with the rest of the honey, and cook another 5 minutes or so until tender and slightly caramelized.

Makes 6 slices.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Penne and Peas in Swiss-Almond Cream Sauce


I needed a fast dinner recently, so I turned to the classic: pasta. As the water boiled, I rummaged through the refrigerator. I thought about topping the pasta with the simple beauty of butter and Parmesan; but I took a quick peek around, just to see what else might strike my fancy.

And then I saw the Parmesan-Ranch cheese ball I'd bought on Manager's Special, with a bright orange sticker stating that it was half-price because it was nearing its expiration date.

I love Manager's Specials! I am the queen of Manager's Specials! I buy them, then figure out later what to do with them, much the way folks buy shares of farm produce during the summer and then pick up their goodies each week and determine menus based upon the contents.

So I chopped up some of the cheese ball, which would normally be served with crackers as an appetizer, and stirred it into the hot pasta so that it could melt into a rich, creamy sauce. Some peas for color and nutrition, and dinner was served!


Penne and Peas in Swiss-Almond Cream Sauce

  • 1 pound penne
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 8 ounces Parmesan-Ranch cheese ball coated with almonds
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • pinch of freshly ground pepper
  • grated Parmesan, for serving

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain, toss with butter.

Cut cheese ball into 1/2" pieces and stir into pasta; thin with milk. Place onto a serving platter and sprinkle with pepper and Parmesan.

Serves 2-4.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - Jefferson Market and Cakery


Craig has a sweet tooth. His makes my own infamous one hang its head in shame.

So it didn't take a lot of work to persuade Craig to join me at Jefferson Market and Cakery one afternoon for coffee and treats. Not a full meal, admittedly; but then, one doesn't always require a full meal. Sometimes one just requires a bit of comfort and a little something delicious. These desserts were perfect.

For less than $5 per person - our mandatory Frugal Floozie Friday budget - I was able to enjoy the gorgeous Red Velvet cupcake pictured above plus a cup of coffee: $1.75 for the former, $2 for the latter (a small one). Rich frosting, tender cake ... a lovely snack.

Craig chose the beautiful Berry Bar for $3.50 - a crisp crust, a thin layer of custard, ripe fruits, and a crumbly topping.  A bit sweet, a bit tart, and entirely wonderful!

Coffees and chai range in price from $2-2.75. Now that Spring is here and cool drinks are desired, both lemonade and iced tea cost only $2.

You can also buy sandwiches, ranging in price from $6.99-7.99; they're served with house-made chips. One of these could be split, making sure to save room for one of the amazing pastries, and you could still come in under our mandatory budget.

Jefferson Market is a bright, friendly place that offers free wi-fi and a warm welcome to loiter while talking or working. And it's such fun to peer behind the back counter to watch the artists at the Cakery creating unique masterpieces for special events; they make such gorgeous celebration cakes!

Jefferson Market. As its own website says, "Cafe, Cakes ... Bliss!"




Jefferson Market and Cakery
609 West Jefferson
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
734-665-6666
Monday: Closed
Tuesday - Friday: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday Brunch: 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.



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Monday, May 6, 2013

Chocolate Chip Pancake Cookies


Jeremy came home from visiting his dad one Sunday, and told me he'd had a vision of brilliance while there: they'd started playing with pancake batter, scrambling it, baking it ... let's just say they were experimenting.

But Jeremy wanted to refine this creative burst, so he asked me to buy some pancake mix and to help him with a baking project.

Okay ...?

Well, I'm always up for an adventure in the kitchen! So Jeremy wrote down the required ingredients and an estimate of measurements, and we mixed and stirred and tasted and tinkered until we came up with a lovely cookie batter. We dropped the batter onto a baking sheet, baked the cookies, and ... voilà! Lovely, tender, light, delicious chocolate chip cookies with a hint of maple syrup-drenched pancake aura infused into them!

An easy shortcut for a quick fix when you've got a craving ... :)


Chocolate Chip Pancake Cookies

3 cups Bisquick
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of kosher salt
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1 egg
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

In a large mixing bowl, combine Biscuick, milk, sugar, and salt. Stir together maple syrup and egg; add to dry ingredients and combine. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop batter by the tablespoon onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies are puffed and lightly golden at the edges, and the house smells a bit like pancakes. Remove to a rack and cool completely.

Makes 30 cookies.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - Gabriel's Cheesesteak Hoagies


When I first met Mary Catherine Smith, the fabulous host of "Brazilian Sol" on WEMU (Saturdays at 9 p.m.), she recommended Gabriel's Cheese Steak Hoagies as a great place to visit for my Frugal Floozie Friday column: good, honest food served for good, honest prices.

Well, it's taken awhile to get there, but Craig and I had lunch at Gabriel's recently and it definitely proved to be a tremendous value!

It's easy to stay within our mandatory $5 per person budget, with hearty sandwiches that are readily split. Costing just over $5 each, you can supplement your half with a bag of chips and a cookie to make a complete comfort food meal and still stay within our financial limits.

The menu is small, focusing on what the shop does well. You can order a cheesesteak hoagie, a steak hoagie, a Lunchmeat Special, or a ham and cheese sandwich. Prices range from $5.14-$5.54, with extras (cheese, mushrooms, peppers, or Provolone) costing anywhere from 20-69 cents to add on. A bag of chips will set you back a whopping 89 cents.

A small, quaint, tremendously friendly diner, Gabriel's is welcoming to everyone but vegetarians - there aren't any options for you beyond the Garden Salad for $3.49.

But carnivores can celebrate at Gabriel's for not much money!




Gabriel's Cheesesteak Hoagies
2585 East Michigan Avenue
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
734-483-5846
Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.



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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Musings on My Week as a Vegetarian


I signed a pledge to only eat a vegetarian/vegan diet during Ann Arbor Veg Week, from April 22-28. I regularly eat an omnivorian diet - anything that strikes my fancy, anything that meanders my way, anything that sounds good. Dinner leftovers for breakfast, breakfast for dinner, kugel warm from the oven, samples at the grocery store, dessert first, etc.

So to set limits upon my diet was a newfangled tactic. I'll readily make accommodations for others' religious beliefs and health needs. Pickiness and exclusionary dietary choices can be acknowledged, though admittedly with significant internal complaint and kvetching ... and even occasional swearing, depending upon the number of dictates and their level of pettiness. It is not my place to judge, however I dislike having others impose their own issues upon my food choices. It's one thing if you can't eat something; it's another if you won't.

Therefore, self-imposed restrictions are not normally my m.o. So, how did I do with my new eating regimen???

Frankly, it was fine - no major moral revelations, no sudden increase in energy or vitality, no noticeable hunger or fatigue. I had no significant cravings for a burger, although I tend to have difficulty maintaining iron levels - just ask the Red Cross, which has repeatedly rejected my very poke-able veins because I can't pass their test despite iron-loading before donation appointments. I didn't miss bacon ... I know! Who'da thunk??? But I did find that the usual brain paralysis I endure in trying to decide what to eat - when everything sounds good, everything sounds good! - was exponentially increased because a wide variety of dishes was suddenly off my menu. It felt as though there were constraints, even though I was still able to eat an enormous number of foods and quantity thereof.

I went to dinner one evening last week with my BFF Wendy and with our new friend (who seemed immediately like an old friend) Vicki - both are vegans. I looked through an assortment of menus online to find a restaurant where they would feel comfortable without having to make special requests or settle for side dishes. We chose a place that serves (among other items) four core pizzas, one of which is vegan; toppings can be added for $1 apiece, ranging from cheeses to meats to vegetables. So we ordered three of the vegan pizzas, each with a different assortment of goodies on top (from peppers to pineapple, onions to olives), and shared without any feeling of deprivation. We enjoyed hours of conversation over a hearty, healthy meal.

I must confess that I ate a gorgeous piece of salmon on Sunday night, technically still Veg Week (mea culpa!), because I attended a beautiful gala event celebrating my friend/boss' 25th anniversary as the congregation's rabbi and I'd ordered the fish meal before signing up for the pledge. Since the caterer is a good friend of mine (and an amazing cook!), I wasn't going to inconvenience her in any way by changing my order at the last minute. But I would have happily eaten the stuffed Portobello mushroom that was served as the vegetarian option, had I made the Veg Week pledge sooner.

I signed the pledge because it was an interesting challenge and - I'll admit it - a new schtick for blog posts. But regularly, even without this impetus, I consider the ethics of my choice to eat meat ... and, truth be told, I often feel guilty. Truth also be told, though, I happen to like meat. I don't need to eat it, but I don't want to feel that I can't or as though I'm cheating if I do. I can even resort to Biblical teaching as a basis to defend the practice; if God said it was okay, as long as there are restrictions as to which living creatures and which parts of them are considered kosher, then who am I to quibble?

I especially don't want to be vilified for my personal decision, regardless of any justification I may make combined with my conscience. I don't approve of the unnecessarily inflammatory "compassion over killing" politics that were a part of the Veg Week campaign; I unsubscribed from emails sent by the coordinating group because of their guilt-inducing tone. Just as Morrissey sings "Meat is Murder," he - and many vegetarian/vegan groups - do nothing to educate or to encourage people who don't believe as they do. In fact, they immediately put people on the defensive, causing them to react rather than reflect. This is one reason I so respect and like Vicki, as she nurtures and teaches rather than being strident and vicious. Look up her recipes, and you'll see that she makes lovely things and offers nutritional information; oh, and by the way, the recipes are vegan. Vicki is warm and welcoming as she invites you to consider your diet and your choices.

It's important to evaluate and to think about what we eat, whether deciding on a carnivorous vs. vegetarian diet, whether choosing to eat organic foods or conventional, whether eating seasonally or buying tomatoes in January, whether buying free-range meat or whatever's on sale, whether we cook from scratch or grab a quick meal at a drive-thru window, whether workers' and human rights are respected by food producers, whether fair wages are paid, whether we consider doctors' orders and cholesterol or blood sugar levels when we go shopping, whether we eat dessert regularly or save it for special occasions ... the ethical, economic, and other permutations are almost overwhelming. Each meal, each dish, each ingredient presents a dilemma with many factors weighing upon it.

And it is up to each of us to consider what we want to eat, without indictment or imposition from others.

So, I'll undoubtedly go back to eating meat - I tried a bite of Jeremy's bacon pizza on Monday without any qualms. Might I eat less of it? Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Changing my diet was a good exercise in discipline and in being conscientious. It wasn't a matter of health - vegetarians can still eat macaroni and cheese and Fritos, after all, rather than brown rice and tofu.

But I think I'll go back to being an omnivore. Frankly, I already have. I eat what I want when I want to, enjoying myself along the way whether I'm eating a salad for lunch or nibbling on trimmings from a batch of brownies.

And my choices may or may not include meat, depending upon my whims. I'm a fairly whimsical girl, after all ... :)

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