15 July 2008

Off the Vagon

My vegan life lasted 33 weeks and three days. Well, technically, I suppose when I realized that denouncing leather was also part of the pact, I really didn’t get past day one. And then there was the cake clause, which I realized was beyond hypocritical (like a vegetarian who eats fish). There weren’t going to be a lot of birthday parties or weddings involving vegan pastry. Cake was going to happen and there was nothing I could do about it.

It’s really not easy being a vegan. For me, anyway. Or maybe it’s being a social vegan that’s the problem. Going out with friends for dinner to any place that’s not vegan-themed (and, let’s be honest, friends will tolerate that on occasion, but their patience with faux cheese and tofu runs out quickly), makes finding something on the menu, that’s sans meat, dairy and egg, generally limited to spring greens and the hummus platter. I could easily dine daily at A Votre Sante, but most of my friends prefer someplace a little less “healthy”.

Being in LA, the finicky palates and restrictive diets brought on by the latest trend are regularly tolerated at most restaurants. Some actually add a small parcel of menu real estate for those of us who skip meat or avoid those pesky carbs. Other establishments figure that if they add a quesadilla or cheese ravioli, they've got their bases covered. Even before being vegan, cheese was not an option. Not with these allergies. Fortunately for me, there’s Hal’s in my 'hood. Hal’s offers the perfect storm for my social life: 1) It’s walking distance from chez moi; 2) It has a killer cocktail menu; and 3) I can get the “vegetarian plate”, which consists of your choice of any four of the “sides”. I always selected the tofu, brown rice, spinach and either the broccolini or asparagus. It pairs nicely with my cantaloupe martini.

I could equally live at Hal’s, and most of my friends love it as much as I do, but sometimes they want to venture out to someplace new. Being a creature of habit, I loathe that. Especially as a vegan, cake eating or otherwise. So many menus had limited offerings of what I could/should eat, and I need a little something more in my belly than lawn trimmings. Salads just aren’t my idea of a dinner. And, as I gazed at the scallops on the James’ Beach menu the other night, I knew my vegan days were numbered.

I’ve been going back and forth about putting fish back in the mix. Mostly because I have fantasies of living in Dublin or Tuscany for a bit and figured I would be a less annoying dinner guest if I at least ate seafood. And, truth be told, I really only love about four vegetables. I tolerate the rest. Friends often encouraged me to go for the scallops, get the salmon. But I was afraid. What if something went wrong? I thought it would be more prudent to do a test meal at home...just in case. I have an allergy to crab (but not any other shellfish...yet), and it hits quick. Cold sweats, stomach cramps and...it’s not pretty. I also can’t eat seabass or halibut; the reaction isn’t anywhere near the crab, thank God. It’s the same as eating raw fish; I feel like I’m digesting glass. Quinoa and pears have to be avoided, too. There is no rhyme or reason to this, I know. It’s all just the fun part of being me. I’ve also come to find that once I take something out of my diet for a length of time, it may not be welcomed back.

I figured the window would soon close and, if I was going to start eating seafood again, I might as well do it now. Being the kind who leaps off the high board and then wonders on her way down if someone did their job and filled the pool, I grabbed the menu for my new favorite Indian restaurant and ordered up some Shrimp Vindaloo. Because of the $20 minimum for delivery, I also ordered the veg curry and some samosa. Go big or go home. And, because I was home, I was prepared for anything.

It’s amazing how little your money gets you when ordering seafood. I dumped the entire contents of the Vindaloo container onto the small serving of rice I doled out on a dish (I’m trying to watch my intake of refined carbs, you know). I ordered the Vindaloo at medium heat, as I like to taste my food after the first bite. And the first bite was delicious. So was the second, third and each one after. I ate every piece of crustacean they put in (which I think totalled six), and when I was done I waited. I waited and wondered what might happen. Was the wheezing that I felt coming on the first sign of anaphylaxis, or was that the whipped cream I had in my chocolate soufflĂ© the night before? (Okay, maybe my vegan stint lasted 33 weeks and two days.) Was the burning in my belly from the intense spices, or was something worse on its way? I ate a samosa and had a small serving of the curry an hour later (I was hungry from skipping lunch), just to see how far I could push it. Another hour passed and it seemed everything was going to stay down. My windpipe would remain opened. My plumbing would not be tested. I would indeed live to see another day.

I woke up with a jolt about 2:30 that morning. For a moment I wasn’t sure what was happening. Then I remembered what acid reflux felt like. Charming. Maybe the Vindaloo was taking it a bit too far. Perhaps it wasn’t the wisest choice for someone with such a sensitive tummy to partake at the same time seafood was being reintroduced to the digestive system. But I’m not half-assed about much. Do or die. Go big or...I took a sip of water, propped up my pillows and went back to bed.

Merriam-Webster officially added the word pescetarian to the American lexicon earlier this month. That’s a vegetarian who eats fish. I always thought that was just someone who didn’t eat mammals or birds. I guess it comes down to what’s the best way to describe the kind of a pain in the ass you are to eat with. I suppose I’ll need to create my own terminology for my distinct lack of discipline. In order to avoid being offered vegetable lasagna at dinner parties or eggs dishes at friendly breakfasts, I’d still rather equate myself as vegan, even if I’m a fraudulent one allowing cod and cake. So, I’d like to coin the term fegan. Or perhaps ficakan might be even a descriptor.

I do intend to be a vegan at least 80% of the time. The tofu still calls. Hal’s will always be home to cantaloupe martinis and brown rice based entrees. A Votre Sante will remain my first dining choice, even if it’s most of my other friends’ last. But, next time I’m faced with the choice of spring greens or hummus, I’ll have the scallops if the mood so strikes. The whipped cream on the chocolate soufflĂ© might have to go, though. Damn allergies.

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