We got back into New Orleans yesterday morning at 5am and as soon as we dropped off our incredibly obnoxious (as in Ignatius J. Reilly obnoxious) rideshare freak, made for Igor's where two tall, double, perfect bloody mary's set us feeling straight after that 17 hour drive from Pennsylvania.
I wish that I'd been able to record some of the awesome meals that I've had since leaving Singapore, starting with our last dinner there at the excellent vegetarian Original Sin in Holland Village. The absolute best was the Bosco Misto, incredibly inspired tofu, spinach, and feta patties rolled in crushed almonds, topped with mushrooms and asparagus in plum sauce, firm but melty...is there any way I can dream of recreating this? I hope so. Feta is so underrated. We made a pasta up in Pennsylvania the other night using zucchini, squash, and tomatoes picked that day from the vegetable garden in Dan's backyard. Usually we do it up with garlic, olive oil, basil and parmesan, but adding crumbled feta makes a huge difference.
A few days before the pasta we were in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, hanging out with some of Dan's childhood friends who now run a record shop cafe called Eat Records, where, aside from having an amazingly bizarre assortment of all types of records, serve up some great things on their menu. For example, an open faced sandwich with a great, moist bakery-fresh bread, avocado spread, sesame oil mayonaise with halved cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives on top, or what I'd definitely get next time, ricotta, figs, and honey on cranberry toast. They have a good selection for vegetarians.
Unfortunately, The Delachaise on St. Charles and Delachaise here in New Orleans does not. However, what they do have to offer is amazing. First of all, it's a great little French bistro wine bar, housed in what feels like a classy old train car and oozing the feel of a dark Parisian brasserie. Second, their selection of wines is fantastic, and their specials make you feel less like a cheapskate and more like a curious and willing connosieur. Third, when it's not horribly overcrowded (which it tends to get with the afterwork yuppie crowd, and definitely on the weekends), it's a great place to eat. Their kitchen is now open until 3am, and chef Chris Debarr is undoubtedly a culinary puppeteer, pulling the strings so that smoked goose, bacon, and penne pasta tango together. Of course I didn't have that, but I did munch on the 'Father Pat's' grilled cheese, brilliantly composed of Cahill's Irish porter, a powerful cheddar flavored with beer (and considered to be a truly vegetarian cheese, as it's made using a vegetable rennet), pear butter, and a dark 'Dakota' wheat bread. Back in my meat-eating days I also used to love the pate plate, composed by my all-time favorite New Orleans chef, Pete Vazquez, formerly of Marisol's and now doing the backyard Sunday dinners at wine-shop Bacchanal's in the Bywater.
On that note...
In the news, a new disease in pigs is currently spreading in China. The main reason I'm a vegetarian is that I'm absolutely physically and morally repulsed by the abhorrent conditions in which most animals spend their short lives before the slaughterhouse; conditions that are highly conducive to the development and spread of these diseases. Hoof and mouth, mad cow, bird flu, and now 'blue-ear' are made possible by the cramped quarters that animals are forced to live in; often healthy animals are made to live, eat, and sleep adjacent to or even on top of diseased, dying, or dead animals. It's the perfect place for a rapidly evolving virus to rapidly evolve into something that can spread to humans. China is one of the worst, and it comes as no surprise to me that many of these diseases are coming out of there. These things have a huge impact on people - when I moved to Egypt two years ago it was just after poultry sellers were forced to turn in all of their birds to the government to be destroyed (to the best of my knowledge they were told they would be but were never reimbursed). Thousands of people lost their livelihood, and those who wanted to keep their birds often hid them inside their apartments, resulting in scores of bird flu cases.
Point is, there ain't nothing wrong with not eating meat, and in fact there are plenty of things right about it. I loved Michael Pollan's new book, The Omnivore's Dilemma (you can read the introduction and first chapter here), but agreed with his Times critic that he could have been more critical of what was going on around him (I felt the same way when he was eating Monsanto potatoes from chemical-soaked fields in Idaho in The Botany of Desire, though that's a great read too). What I appreciated about his take on not eating meat, or better yet, on eating meat, is that there's nothing wrong with wanting to or enjoying eating meat, and that looking at our evolutionary history we know how natural it is, and simply in terms of our place in the natural world (not as dominant or higher up on some sort of solipsistic evolutionary ladder, but simply our place), how natural it is. What he rightly points out is that most people are eating incredibly unnatural meat from animals who never experienced anything of what their genes are telling them to do, animals stuck in tiny spaces wallowing in their own feces, pumped full of antibiotics to combat the inevitable infections they get. And because they don't know about it, they don't care, and that if they knew what their food actually went through to get there, they would certainly change the way they eat. That's what I did, but I'm not sure if I could even eat something that lived happily and died humanely. Anyways, save that for Dan.
So that's what's been happening on my plate and in my head for the past week or so. I'm eager to eat more around town (World's Healthiest Pizza, for example) visit the farmer's market, and get back to drinking mojitos.