Sunday, January 31, 2010

Saturday's Axis Powers

I spent Saturday with WWII's Axis Powers of Japan, Italy, and Germany.

First, a mea culpa. For the second time in this vegan quest I ate something non-vegan. Obviously, by accident, just like those tiny, white cheese shavings in my salad last month.

For lunch I ordered from one of the best Sushi restaurants on the East Side, Ten Zen. They do a marvelous "healthy roll" of vegetables wrapped in mango slices. I also ordered a asparagus and avocado roll, and a avocado and peanuts roll - all with brown rice. When it arrived I happily indulged, and after eating one piece I had a strange sensation -- this was good, a little too good. I realized they made a mistake and sent me an avocado and eel roll. So, that was mistake I corrected. Although many will say, "Oh, who cares? One tiny sliver of eel. No big deal." Well, it was an honest mistake, true, and there is nothing terribly unhealthy about a small piece of eel, but I hate making a mistake like that because I have gotten great joy in eating nothing but a strict vegan diet for these past 3 months without withdrawals, or any sneaking of meat, fish, or dairy. Many people say that it is "impossible" for them to give up, say, dairy, or meat, or fish. Not true! If I can do it, anyone, ANYONE, can do it!

For dinner, the Skeptical Doctor, ("SD") and I went Italian. Not just any Italian, but some good old school, Sinatra's favorite eatery, Italian. PATSY's (The restaurant, not the pizza parlor). Whereas most of the authentic Italian deli's and casual restaurants in Manhattan are an endangered species, there a plenty of family-owned, upscale, great Italian restaurants. My favorite? Il Mulino. Patsy's was good (they now bottle their spaghetti sauce and sell them in grocery stores like other classic Italian places like Rao's). "SD" had the broccoli rabe over whole wheat spaghetti, and I had the whole wheat spaghetti with marinara sauce. The takeaway here is that Patsy's serves the best whole wheat pasta I've had to date. Only some Italian places serve it, and it is becoming more popular, but had we not known it was whole wheat, we would have never known. The salad was tasty but it was "drowned" in Balsamic vinaigrette - too much.

In weather reminiscent of what was experienced by all the heroic souls who braved the hellish Battle of the Bulge (including my grandfather, K.I.A., may he rest in peace), we walked off our meal in frigid 18 degree weather (-7 Celsius). First we stopped for coffee and soy milk, and then headed to Lincoln Plaza to see the German film, The White Ribbon. A favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. As a budding film writer I am thinking that the best way to garner accolades from critics is to make a film as disturbing and unclear as possible. The casting and acting were excellent, and it was beautifully shot in black and white. But, in the end it was just too disturbing for complete enjoyment.

This 3 month anniversary is certainly not lost on me, and I will have more to say later.

Liars!...Well, Not Anymore!

I never liked raw food - I'd always "drown it" in whatever dressing I could find! Well, now that I really enjoy the taste, the real taste of healthy food I desire as little dressing, even if it is balsamic vinegar, as possible.

Today, when I get a salad or any meal that is covered in dressing or sauce I don't like the taste, and always, always, think of this stupid Public Service Announcement I used to see during Saturday cartoons growing up! I used to be savvy enough to not buy into this healthy BS indoctrination, but now I know they were right all along!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hands Down, the Greatest Vegan Meal to Date

After work I went to the gym determined to, in the immortal words of Woody Hayes, get the hell kicked out of me. I have a month left on my Equinox membership so I am going to take advantage of it until I am forced to stick with NYSC full time. With the motivational words of Joe Namath and Coach Hayes ringing in my ears I hit the gym hard for 40 minutes of rigorous cardio. Dog tired, and drenched, I gingerly walked back into the immaculate locker room when I noticed a nasty gash on my shin that was bleeding into my sock. No pain, and no clue how and when it happened - love it, totally amped up on adrenalin! OK, I’m a little sick, but I was stoked my legs felt like rubber after my circuit training (bike, treadmill, elliptical, repeat).

Walking home I was traversing 52nd Street and as I passed the familiar collection of jockeys on the iron stairwell I was reminded that my first Christmas card last year was from the one and only, most famed New York institution, '21' Club.

'21' is a former speakeasy famous for their hidden wine cellar, antique toys hanging over the bar, legions of patrons from presidents (beginning with FDR) to Hollywood Royalty (Bogart and Bacall got engaged at table 30), and impeccable class. All class. Although '21' suspended their tie requirement for gentleman, I wouldn't dream of being so disrespectful to this historic jewel. I ducked into the bathroom to put my tie back on. Even the bathroom in '21' exudes class, dignity and history. The attendant, Robinson, has faithfully stood sentry there since, appropriately enough, 1989 (when I last weighed my goal weight). Robinson greets each visitor in his crisp white jacket, and tie, and at 68 years old has a passing resemblance to Scatman Crothers. His father and uncle stood in the same bathroom going back to the 1940's. Also known as the “Rev,” he is always up on the latest current events, and greets you as if you are the president of the United States (his favorite customer was President Reagan). Holding my jacket while I affixed my tie I thought of all the real gentleman, captains of industry, and the biggest celebrities in the world who Robinson waited on, and I felt really privileged!

I stopped into '21' on impulse. I figured I would have a seltzer, maybe some vegetables and write about the ambiance – my favorite place to sit down in all of the City. I love the dark wood paneling, red leather chairs, fireplace, and classic oil paintings - plenty to write about, though nothing really about the vegan quest (so I thought), but it is one of my favorite places in the city.

I sat down at a table next to the bar. Steve the bartender delivered my seltzer and a menu. Without opening it I said, "I have quiz, no meat, no fish, and no dairy." With that the menu was taken from my hand, and a firm, "OK." Now, there was no hemming and hawing, and no, "What about this or that?" or "Um, can you give me something to go on? What can you have?" None of those pedestrian questions found at lesser restaurants. This is '21!' The customer said what he can't have, and '21' went into action. Next to visit my table was the other bartender Tara, "We have a vegetable platter." "Done." I reiterated, "no butter," but that was an insult since I already said no dairy. This is '21,' they know what the hell they are doing. I expected just some grilled veggies as per usual at a restaurant without vegan dishes on the menu, and I would sit back, enjoy the ambiance and thank God I live in NYC.

As I munched on their signature snack - a silver tray of mixed nuts, and green olives - the server came out. Clearly, this server was a total imbecile since he brought me the wrong dish. Not just any wrong dish, this moron brought me a plate of filet mignon with two plump pieces of lobster claw meat! Before I can scold him he announced the arrival of my vegetable platter...I blinked repeatedly...I could hear the crickets out on 52nd St. "Uh, really?" I stammered. The server had a wry smile that clearly seemed to say, 'I can read your mind dumb ass, and you sir, are the dolt here!' And he would be right!

Before me on this "vegetable platter" was an impeccable presentation of Grilled Portabello mushrooms, with truffles, and toasted pine nuts – which at first glance looked like a sumptuous filet. On either side looking like pink lobster claws were Piquillo Peppers stuffed with Beet Farro with onion and corn juice all on a bed of sautéed eggplant, zucchini and black garlic 'Ratatouille.' And reading my mind once again, I was told, "And, no butter, we left it in the kitchen for us," he said with a wink. I was dumbfounded and thrilled.

I was afraid to cut into this dish of beauty. I had to take a picture. At the next table were a half dozen beautiful young ladies appearing to be fresh out of college (it is great to see a new generation who can appreciate such an institution like '21.'). I asked if one of them had a camera, and the efficient, charming, raven-haired Liz, jumped into action. Of course I had to explain my vegan quest which they all found fascinating and offered encouragement. When I mentioned the no booze aspect, however, it was too much for the tall blond sitting nearest me to handle. “No, way!” They sound just like I did so many months ago when Heather Mills brought this crazy idea to me. I had to chuckle.

The photo I took of my meal is too dark, but trust me, it was gorgeous. I returned the favor and snapped a photo of the budding socialites with a promise to post on My Vegan Quest.

Being one of those nights when it was just good people all around, there was lots of intermingling. A couple at the bar commented on how good my dish looked. Tara chatted with me about her diet. Steve was chatting with another customer explaining my quest - "He’s halfway through, lost 35 lbs already, and another 40 to go!" "Wow"! It was small town NYC, and I loved it. Actually, on the new scale at the gym that evening I was 37 lbs lighter.

I chatted with others longer than I should have, so I quickly sat down to dive into this masterpiece. For once in my life, I was able to judge a book by its cover.

This was one of the tastiest meals I've ever had, and far and away the best meal these past 3 months. The mix of flavors was symphonic, and if I try to break down each ingredient I will just muddle this already unnecessarily elongated post.

Just take my word; it was out of this world! I could not figure out how a 100% vegetable dish, with no dairy, could be so rich, and tasty!

Dessert was some tea, and a bowl of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Just a near perfect evening.

Within 30 minutes I did not feel like I was at the world famous ’21,’ rather in a relative's home! Word of my vegan quest, and progress, filtered to the stern looking floor captain - Michael - who quickly asked if I was working out. I am coming from the gym now, I said. "Do you do cardio?" Yes. "How long?" Tonight, 40 minutes. "OK, that's very good." Again, people love to impart their knowledge about diet and health, and I appreciate every person who has taken the time to give me their two cents.

New York City has plenty of outstanding vegan restaurants, and most all regular eateries will have something acceptable on their menu, but when you go to a place like '21' you are not expecting anything remotely vegan. At a class place like this you'd expect some veggies thrown together for the annoying, tree-hugging vegan. Not so. Not so by a long shot.

Tonight's meal was unbelievable! The setting, perfect! One of the best experiences I've had. The only thing that would have made the evening truly perfect would have been someone joining me, but I will leave it at appears from some unpleasant emails I have received that I should have tied up some past loose ends before writing about my current, um, "friend." I sometimes forget I am not writing in a vacuum.

A Day in the Deuce, the Ribbon, the Crossroads of the World

I wandered into the large café of my new office building. In the heart of Times Square it is nice to be high above the madness, and in this case the windows look out 16 floors up on the snow falling on millions of illuminated light bulbs and heavily bundled and befuddled tourists. I looked outside and pondered the blue-gray, snowy sky swirling around the skyscra....Oh, look, I found the oatmeal!

At my old job I was quite possibly one of three who would dig into the shallow bowl of porridge each day, but here at the new job in a 30 story office building there are crowds of people humming around the bagels, and fruit, and coffee, and yogurt, and breakfast sandwiches, and...oatmeal. A long line of five or six people waited patiently, like the cast of Oliver Twist played in white collar and ties, for their turn to scoop boiled oats into sturdy cardboard bowls. It was like they found my secret breakfast, and I felt no longer unique, but one of the great unwashed. Yes, billions of people over the centuries lived on porridge, but I was the only adult I used to know who ate it regularly for breakfast. After this morning I realized that I am not alone…there are others. This new café, taking up most of the floor, is quite large and I do appreciate that instead of just brown sugar (which I never take), and my beloved raisins, there is also granola to add to the oatmeal!

Lunch, however, proved to be more tricky.

Lunch was a few blocks north and as I navigated Times Square it was hard not to think of Holden Caulfield tracing the same steps. I only thought of that since I heard today that J.D. Salinger passed away.

I had lunch with a good friend, and client, and because of the awful weather this morning, she rightly suggested a place across from her office.

Gallagher’s Steak House.

Gallagher’s, on 52nd & Broadway, has been a New York / Times Square institution since 1927. The most distinguishing feature is that the meat locker is located in the front of the restaurant with large windows on the street, and in the foyer looking in on racks of hanging slabs of beef carcasses. To a meat lover, it is gorgeous; to a vegan, it is repulsive. To me? Well, I feel a little like August Gloop eyeing Willy Wonka’s chocolate river for the first time. Actually, it was not that tantalizing, sadly Gallagher’s is far down on the list of great steakhouses in NYC, and I prefer the décor of Gallagher’s over the food (although the Gallagher's in Vegas I hear is quite excellent). Besides, I was not there for the meat!

I have had some great sessions at the Gallagher’s bar, and some so-so steaks. Go inside to view the history, look at the walls, and the mural, and perch yourself at the center bar and have a jar. Waiting for my friend I first sat in one of the original, vintage Yankee Stadium seats bolted to the floor at the entrance, and then sat in one of the salvaged bleacher seats from the Polo Grounds (for my UK friends – two baseball stadiums long gone that comprise, perhaps, 50-70% of all the greatest history of our national pastime). There are pictures of every great sports celebrity in the history of New York City on the walls. In its day, Gallagher’s was the steak joint. Even Grace Kelly enjoyed a few meals here in the 1960’s. You’ll still find the dwindling number of old school businessmen sitting at the checkered tablecloth tables with their white hair and spider-vein, bulbous noses. They eat the steak out of tradition and drink the scotch out of necessity. It really is a visual splendor of old NYC.

I ordered a plate of steamed vegetables, and my friend the Cobb salad which looked quite good. As an afterthought I asked if there was a soup special. “Yes, Lentil.” I was excited since it is rare to find a non-meat, cream, or fish soup at regular restaurants. The soup came out and it smelled fabulous, the first taste was excellent. But, I looked down and amongst the lentils and vegetables I noticed these tiny, amber –colored icebergs dotting my bowl. “Sir!” Apparently, according to the waiter, this lentil soup is made to perfection with slices of hot dog thrown in it. Yes, tasty soup indeed, but it will have to go back. Sad. The large vegetable platter came out, and it was just as expected – decent. Vegetables lose a good number of their nutrients when steamed, and especially boiled, so it is healthier to eat them raw, but steamed is sometimes better tasting.

The tomato came out caramelized in cheese. Sigh, take that back too! I hated being “that guy,” and I did not fault a steakhouse one bit for throwing meat in the lentil soup, and cheese on the tomato. The broccoli, asparagus, button mushrooms, and spinach filled me up fine…well, a couple of handful of nuts back at the office made it perfect.

My friend runs the Heineken advertising business so the entire walk back to the office I was craving a nice cool glass of Holland's brew…I replenished that urge, however, with a cup of decaf at my desk.

I am sure Caulfield would famously call me a phony, but, I am not. I am merely following a goal that I cannot accomplish by eating and drinking as I have this past decade.

Speaking of non-phonies. I stopped off at the Marriott Marquis for a shoe shine. Here I found another tiny sliver of authentic New York. The man said he was 89 years old and has been shining shoes for 75 years. Love the stories, and with guys like this the truth is irrelevant. When I asked for polish in Ox Blood color for my burgundy shoes I thought he was going to rip my head off. "Whatchoo want that for?!" Well, is there any alternative? He then went on a tirade against old Kiwi shoe polish. I protested that Kiwi has been shining shoes for over 100 years. "Well," said he in a scowl, "they been ruining shoes for 100 years!" How do you argue with a professional shoe shiner? The shine was twice the cost of others on the street, but it was twice as good, and the experience of authentic New York surrounded by its phony Disneyfication was priceless!

Changing my lifestyle so radically may have been much easier in places like Portland, Oregon, but it would be less than 5% the fun of doing it here in New York City!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sports, Life and My Current Exercise Regimen

I went to my new gym at lunch today, New York Sports Club. It's closer to my new work, and because of a corporate deal, $100 per month cheaper than Equinox.

Now, I was always the first to exclaim that I don't need a fancy gym, and that since all I mostly do is the bike, treadmill, elliptical machine, weight machines, and free weights, that I can work out anywhere since all gyms have that equipment today -even Junior High Schools.

Today I questioned that claim a bit. No, that's too soft. I *know* I'd prefer a nice gym! Now, I don't know if Equinox spoiled me, or that this particular NYSC in Times Square needs to clean up their act, but I found my mental motivation for a good exercise was clouded by my disappointment that I was not at a nicer facility. So, right away my focus was not on my exercise, it was on not being pampered, and regardless of why, it was an excuse to not work out as hard today.

I walked up stairs where the weights were, and besides NYSC being more crowded at lunch hour than any Equinox I've been too (not to mention more cramped), it reeked of body odor. When I went in to change I was repulsed by the smell of the locker room. It was crowded, cramped, and dirty -- towels and tissue paper littered the floor, the bathroom floors were sloshing with water, and the steam room smelled like the galley of a Roman ship -- I could almost make out Ben Hur shackled to others rowing the ship. It was that bad. Well, I am going to talk to the GM and make sure that this day was an aberration.

I ended up only exercising for 22 minutes. I was distracted by the new place.

As I thought about how easily I was distracted by a gym that looked and smelled like the gym I used to exercise in back in High School and college with no problem, I began to read some quotes about sports. Reading these quotes I was reminded how pathetic I have been about my work outs of late.

* Sports do not build character, they reveal it. –John Wooden (former UCLA Basketball coach)

Yes, indeed. My character was revealed, and it has been poor. True, I went to the gym and actually worked up a sweat, but no character was built today, rather it was revealed that a messy, smelly gym easily dissuaded me from my purpose to work out hard for at least 50 minutes. Leaving the gym with my bag over my shoulder I felt none of that achiness and satisfaction, only disappointment in my laziness.

* If you aren’t going to go all the way, why go at all. –Joe Namath (former New York Jets quarterback)

First, remind me some day to tell you the story of when I was next to Namath when he was kicked out of P.J. Clarke's bar. Second, and more importantly, why did I even go to the gym today? I most certainly did not go all the way. My attitude today was as if I went to rugby practice and the field was too muddy and smelly, so I took a few laps, kicked and passed the ball around, and called it a day. If that was my practice I would have gotten creamed in the game. Well, that was my work out today and I will not lose the weight and reach my goal of losing 75 lbs (5.35 Stone) if I continue like that. Currently, I am almost halfway there at almost the halfway mark. But the second 37.5 lbs (2.67 Stone), will be by far the hardest, and nearly impossible if I don't go "all the way."

* Running is a metaphor for life; there's always someone faster than you, always someone slower. All you can do is hang in there, and put your heart into it. –Anonymous

My heart is in my diet, I should make damn sure it is in my exercise regimen! I need to remember, I am not in competition with anyone but myself, and though I know I will most certainly "hang in there," I need to re-double my efforts for the second half and put my heart, really put my heart into it!

* There’s nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you. –Woody Hayes (former Ohio State Football coach)

Being that I am not playing any competitive sports I am going to take this to mean a good ass-whoopin in the gym. I need to cleanse my soul so a dirty gym is the least of my troubles, and merely raising my arms and legs after a torturous work out are the most.

* There are three types of baseball players-those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happened. –Tommy Lasorda (former L.A. Dodgers coach)

For 10 years I have been watching it happen, and God help me if I ever start to wonder what happened. I am close to really changing my lifestyle for the better, so damn it, Terrence, MAKE IT HAPPEN!

I hate admitting my faults and errors in such a public fashion, but I need to be honest with myself, and the only way is to publicly pronounce where I am slipping! It's like the ease in which one can mutter, "sorry," to themselves and continue on, and a whole 'nother matter when you go into a box, hit your knees and say "sorry" to your confessor.

Well, this will help me - saying aloud how I need to greatly improve. You, those of you kind enough to read this blog, are my confessors today.

Ignosce mihi, Pater, quia peccavi...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Calabria to Constantinople

For me, Turks are the new Italians.

With the decline of New York City in the 70’s through early 90’s there was a Diaspora swap in Manhattan with a sea change of Asian, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European folks washing in, and European folks washing out. Consequently, neighborhoods like Little Italy whittled down to a street and a half encircled by a vibrant Chinatown. Then with the clean-up of NYC, and economic boom, the inflated real estate market made it impossible for the old Mom and Pop stores to survive in Manhattan. Old Manhattan, the stuff of legend, is now a shell of itself.

All the best Italian delis and casual restaurants moved out of Manhattan to the outer-boroughs, and the Tri-State area. You want a nice little Italian deli or pizza parlor in Mid-town, they’re there in name, but it’s impossible to find a “Tony” or a “Mike” working there, let alone ever hear the words “Mama Mia.” Well, Times Square is crowded, successful and safe, but emphatically NON-(even Anti-) New York City places like Red Lobster, Quicksilver, and Chevy’s choke the area. Authentic NYC is harder and harder, close to impossible to find.

Nothing is more warming, and quintessentially New York than a small ethnic Mom and Pop shop to make you feel like Mayberry in the middle of Manhattan. Well, because of this new vegan quest I have found that Turkish restaurants have replaced the casual Italian place of your parent’s generation. Not only do they serve excellent vegetarian and vegan dishes, but they are friendly first generation New Yorkers that make you remember why this is the greatest city in the world.

First there was Turkish Cuisine on 9th Ave, in Hell’s Kitchen – the staff was all Turkish, engaging, and the food was excellent – try the apple tea! Then, Sunday night, I wanted to get some dinner to watch the football game. Not sure if it was the Skeptical Doctor’s Italian heritage, but the streak of Mediterranean hospitality continued. We went to another place on 9th and 56th – it looks like a small country store with a deli in front, and bar and tables in back. The owner took to us and all but invited us to come live with his family. Those are the types of places that I’d go out of my way to visit. We got some grilled brussel sprouts, marinated cauliflower, elephant beans, and hummus. All were excellent!

Yesterday, I popped into the Pig N Whistle for lunch – vegetables and pasta – did the trick. Last night I opened my still untidy fridge and looked at some sumptuous Vbites stews in a bag, and plenty of relatively fresh vegetables for a salad. But, I just got back from the gym (by the way – I normally go to the gym at lunch, but going at 7PM is murder! Way too crowded!), and I did not even feel like lifting a knife, or opening the microwave. I did what most New Yorker’s do – I ordered in.

My new favorite take out is Taksim. Yep, the Turks have me hooked.

Taksim’s purée of Lentil is one of the best soups I have ever had. I ask before hand, is this made with any cream or dairy? NO! I call back after I taste it, are you SURE it is not made with cream? NO! It is that good! There hummus is great, and their mixed tomatoes and cucumbers are fabulous. And it’s cheap!

So, hats off to the Turkish and their healthy, vegan-friendly fare.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Good Weekend

This is a football-watching truncated post.

First off, great season for the J-E-T-S, but they came up a bit short.

Friday night I smoked cigars at a bar in the East Village with a buddy where a majority of the conversation was about...carbohydrates. He is a diabetic.

Discussing food is actually quite interesting to me because it is a discussion about how to fuel your body. Whereas all of us can become quite animated about food for pleasure, it is interesting to dive into the science of what makes us live.

The weekend can best be summed up as miso soup, salads, and hummus.

Earlier today while watching football there was a strong desire for chicken wings and a pint of beer. Although it is still a sacrifice and not the norm, I do feel empowered by pulling a Nancy Reagan and just saying No.

I am going to dinner tonight and will be watching the second football game. Perhaps there will be something worth discussing. I will say that I did receive my first word of discouragement from a close friend's fiance who said (Mind you I am almost 3 months in and I was munching on celery sticks and drinking seltzer at the time at a party in Queens) that I will "never" be able to reach my goal. Really? It is so peculiar to find some women who are so sure of man's inability to exhibit self discipline with the suddenness of an on-off switch as I did three months ago. When she said I would never be able to reach my goal I went from shock, to mild anger, to dismissiveness, to inner-laughter. Please, I have overcome some herculean temptations going back to day one on November 1st. This goal will be reached...PERIOD!

For now, I feel like I am very close to being a master over my lifestyle -- it is not perfect, but, I am the king of my diet.

“It is not a sign of arrogance for the king to rule. That is what he is there for.”

-- William F. Buckley Jr

"I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."

-- William Ernest Henley

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thurs. Blues

Today I felt no different than the past 10 years. I went to Wolfgang's Steakhouse with my friend. She had a scotch and a thick slice of bacon. I had seltzer and steamed asparagus. The guy next to us had a sizzling porterhouse, and creamed spinach.

Every smell from every plate other than mine I craved. I wanted to sink my teeth into every piece of meat I saw. I wanted to crawl into every glass in the room and happily imbibe.

I saw a recent picture of me someone posted on facebook - I looked over weight (well I am) even though I am 35 lbs lighter than I was 2 1/2 months ago.

Today, I was not happy. Today was the first time I worried that at the end of this vegan quest I will go back to over indulgence. Today was not a good day.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Double Takes

I often get double-takes in the men's locker room.



I guess it is better than "Scarface."

Some guys will try to surreptitiously stare at my stomach when undressed. I have a very deep scar in the shape of a cross about 2"x1 1/2" just below my diaphragm. I grew up joking that I was shot by an Indian. I stopped being insecure about it in public - like at the beach - at a relatively young age. There is another more recent scar (second op.) 11" long running horizontally next to the cross scar down below by navel. My explanations have ranged from a gun shot, to knife fights, to shark attacks. Some gullible friends (notably, Jason the Adobe Exec.) believed my outrageous fictitious stories for years. I doubt his expression was much different when he learned there was no Easter Bunny when I came clean.

It's not horrid looking, I don't shirk in horror at the stares screaming, "I am not an animal!" But, I really hate guys in the locker room staring at my (ever slimming) scarbelly! It's rude! When one dumb soul asked about it, I just said, "Shark bite," and walked into the steam room. By the way, the Skeptical Doctor is currently surfing in El Salvador - I hope she avoids the real thing.

Another double-take is even more humorous, like what happened today.

I visited Green Symphony on 43rd at the suggestion of a reader. It is a tiny health food deli with a minimal salad bar, and extensive juice bar. There are a half dozen tiny tables wedged in the corner where I took a seat. I had a salad and a smoothie with soy milk. The deli was packed - mostly by "healthy" types - and there was not another person in the place in a suit and tie. It was mostly female, and a few slim theatre type guys, shabbily dressed and tattooed. Yeah, I had a few double-takes today!

For dinner I stopped off at the Turkish restaurant Dervish in Times Square for some hummus. That filled me up, but again, I am eating too much bread!

Speaking to my brave and classy great Aunt tonight who is stricken with cancer I am reminded of the quote by Virgil, "The greatest wealth is health."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Around Veganhood in 80 Days!

I've drank soy milk in a glass, I've had it in my smoothies, and I have had it in my coffee. But, now I have it in my cereal. It disappears! The grain cereal totally and completely absorbs the soy milk which is a strange and disconcerting phenomenon - I tend to like my cereal floating in white liquid!

I really like Cascadia Farms Organic Multi grain Squares. At only 110 calories, 5 from fat, it is a healthy cereal that tastes great! I just wish it wouldn't suck up the soy milk like a sponge.

Starting a new job in your 40's is no different than going to a new school in the 4th Grade. None! There are the looks, the sizing up, the immediate judgments about people, the confusion, the concern of where is the drinking fountain (coffee machine) and the bathroom. Above all, it is exciting change. My only real beef is the company ID. I mean, c'mon! I work hard to lose 35 lbs and the photo taken today for the ID has this unnatural widening effect so I look like the same puffy dude on October 31st!

I need to find a vegan place, or at least a restaurant with great vegan soups or wraps in Times Square. That is my mission -- I need to find a regular place for lunch. Today, my new assistant and I went for sushi - an easy out with the miso, salad, and asparagus, avocado and almond roll...with white rice, damn it.

Also, I need to find a new gym. There is an Equinox about 8 blocks away, but I would prefer one closer to my new office on 42nd and Broadway. Yesterday while at the gym I had the "last straw" on something, and I will have to address it later.

Tonight I was missing my famed vegan wrap so I made my own. A whole wheat tortilla wrapped around hummus, tofu, tomato, and grilled onions (remember the forgotten onion?), zucchini, and squash. Although the construction of my vegan wrap compared to the Coffee Shop's is like comparing a twig hut in Malaysia to the Empire State Bldg. (How do they make it so firm, and tightly rolled?), but, even though it fell apart (like, thankfully, the S.D. Chargers) it was delicious!

I've been having some stomach cramps lately, sorry, sorry, I know, I know, but it's my blog damn it, and if there is no literary honesty and integrity, what have we here, huh, what have we here? But I am blaming this residual pain on that raw carrot overload I experienced last week.

In a nutshell, I had major reconstructive surgery on my stomach and esophagus the day after I was born, then 25 years later I had another significant surgery to cut away all the ever-growing, and strangling adhesions (scar tissue) from the original operation. Thus the affectionate nickname my brother gave me, "Scarbelly." Well, all is 100% fine now, but carrots have been a sticky wicket over the years. Raw Baby organic carrots - problem. All others raw or cooked - no problem. But the other night I devoured two giant raw carrots and there was serious, doubled over, menstrual cramps like pain.

So, ladies, I tip my cap to you and your intrepidity!

Seems fine now...back to crunches tomorrow at the gym.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Found Weekend

An ode to oatmeal: After making my porridge from the brands, 360 Organic, Best Old Style, and Quaker Oats, I can tell you -- I like the Quaker. It's what I know, it reminds me of childhood, it tastes best. This is not a paid advertisement!

So, the weekend I decided to take in this village that I have lived in for 13 years.

Since my apartment can be a distraction -- part bachelor pad, part museum, part library, and part womb, I needed to continue writing my screenplays somewhere more inspiring.

I went to the 100 year old New York City Public Library on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street. It's one of the most beautiful buildings in the world - second only, in personal inspiration, to the Opera House in Budapest (I've included photos of both).

The jewel in the crown is easily the Rose Reading Room - an enormous, majestic and dramatic room in the finest Beaux-Arts style. I sat down in the heavy wooden chair in space 488 at one of the banquetesque tables which would rival anything commissioned by the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth House castle during Elizabethian times (Of all the famous castles in England, why would I chose this one? Because I grew up in Chatsworth, California up from Devonshire Street -- now, which one came first [CA, or UK] is a matter of intense debate!).

It takes a few minutes...OK, a half hour, before you can refocus your senses on the work in front of you. I wrote on my laptop until closing time -- which is announced not by a security guard whispering to the egalitarian mass of readers that the day is at end, rather, but by the very abrupt manner of shutting off the lights in this cavernous castle of books. There is no such thing as a "soft" closing at the New York Public Library.

It was dinner time so I met my friend, Ms. Skeptical Doctor, at a diner for some salad and lentil soup...I'll save my Greek diner trips for when, and if, I dive back into omelettes or gyros.

The next day I headed out to Brooklyn Heights to the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) museum. Built in an old subway station, this museum has subway cars going back to the early 1900's. Sitting on one of these old cars you immediately see where the nickname, still used today, for subway riders, "Strap-hangers," came from. These old cars had nylon straps to hang onto. As a testament to my new lifestyle, and endeavor, I looked at the old fashioned ads that ran the length of the subway above the windows, just like today, and thought of the diets of the people that crowded into this 100 year old subway car. Really, dude? You thought of people's diets? Well, yeah, I did. I remembered reading how in those pre- preservative days that people back then ate half, to 1/3 the amount of sugars, fats and oils than we do today. One of the questions I had for Dr. Fuhrman, who is obviously quite critical of the old accepted standard of nutrition - the four food groups - was why children were so much healthier and thinner back in the day, with less cases of heart disease in adults. The main reason, besides a sedentary livelihood of today's children, is the obnoxiously high amount of saturated fats, and preservatives in today's food. So, since the days of riding on this subway car built in the early 1900's we have had some amazing advancements in clean food preparedness and refrigeration, but the advancements in chemicals for our food has decreased our general health precipitously.

What's the best way to figure out which are the healthiest foods to eat without a degree in chemistry? Easy - eat mostly what is grown. Takes out the guess work, and takes out the unhealthy toxins in your body.

Brooklyn Heights is not too far from the Brooklyn Bridge so I decided to walk back to the city.

Succumbing to my once or twice a week vice, I grabbed a cigar for the walk home.

Strolling over the Brooklyn Bridge at night, smoking a cigar, listening to my iPod, looking at the vista that is New York City was awesome. The span is over a mile, and the confluence of history, and beauty is second to none. The walk put me in a terrific state of mind as I looked upon this giant marvel of a bridge, the vast East River below, and one of the largest metropolises in the world. What I did not feel was that I did not feel small. Actually, I felt quite large -- it is my life that I am changing, and walking in lighter steps with a firm control over my eating and drinking habits I felt exhilarated!

Once in Manhattan I walked a few steps over to a small clapboard red building flirting on the penumbra of that iconic stone wonder of the world. In this three story, 200 year old building at 279 Water Street is the Bridge Cafe. Reportedly, the oldest drinking establishment in New York City, the Bridge Cafe is nothing like I expected. Whereas many of the oldest saloons in NYC wear its age, dust, decaying crevices, and antique fixtures with pride (McSorley's, Pete's Tavern, Old Town Tavern, White Horse Tavern, and the newly renovated P.J. Clarke's), the Bridge Cafe looks like a colonial structure on the outside, with an interior of simple, clean, steady charm.

The history is there -- a deep and documented history. But, what separates this one-time brothel to local seamen, and dockworkers of the early 19th Century from other historic taverns is the food. In a word: spectacular.

Drinking a non-alcoholic beer while staring at one of the finest collections of bourbon and scotch I have seen, I chatted with Adam the bartender, who's family has owned the place for the past 30 years. Debates about the oldest bar in NYC are as animated as debates about the best steak house, but my new friend was not recalcitrant in the Bridge Cafe's "oldest" moniker, rather he was a scholarly sponge of NYC bar history - one of my favorite topics to discuss. He is also a vegetarian, and his impact on the exceptional menu is this: amongst the delicious looking meat, fowl, and fish, are fantastic vegetarian and vegan dishes.

I ordered the three bean soup which even without any chicken stock was hearty, healthy, and fantastic - especially on a cold January evening. The vegetarian Spanish tapas appetizer was one of the best I ever tasted. Minced olives, delectable peppers, and very, very, very lightly fried artichoke hearts. My meal was the sort that erased any memory of my current vegan, read "healthy," quest - it was just damn good food!

I ended the evening at the Merc Bar, a lounge in SOHO, at a friend's party where my diet came up for discussion again. Naturally. It was nice to hear that one of the guys from my Halloween night (Vegan Eve) whom I had not seen since then had trouble recognizing me.

That evening there was the same debate of when I would re-introduce liquor into my diet, and the more it is discussed the more I think I will keep the non-drinking and veganism in lockstep to the end.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Swatting Down the Insults

Breakfast: Oatmeal & raisins. Enough said.

For lunch I cooked up some whole wheat pasta. I had some marinara sauce, not much left, so I added a can of diced tomatoes. Now, I recently glanced at a breathless news item on some web portal that blared the warning that you should never eat canned tomatoes...something about eating tomatoes from the can will cause swift and immediate death. Although I have no doubt that some microscopic resin or another is sometimes found inside cans, I'll have to defer to the previous four generations of hundreds of millions of people who lived off of canned vegetables all their lives and make some tough, but common sense, choices. With crucifix in hand I poured a can of tomatoes into the sauce. To spice it up (although does marinara sauce with canned arsenic really need spicing?) I added some VBites Bio Gyro "Sausages". The sauce was quite good, and the sausages (which heretofore have been my favorite vegan food) were very tasty, but had a faint, unique sort-of sour aftertaste. I'll have to try them separately.

Dinner: I went to an Irish restaurant for a friend's 40th birthday party. I really had only once choice, but the salad was very good - asparagus, red peppers, mushrooms, lettuce, and tangerine slices.

All seemed fine at first, and then my veganism beeper started going off with no opportunity to shut it down. Arrayed in front of me was a representative from England, a representative from New Zealand, and a representative from Ireland (ruggers all)-- plus a handful of Americans.

It starts off harmless enough, "Really? Vegan? Why?" And like gasoline on a fire, the more cocktails served, the more, shall I say, inquisitive my friends became, "You can't be serious! This is a joke, right?" And soon, after a few more glasses of fire water, the insults where like fighter planes warming up and taking off with me, my veganism, and my pint of ice water squarely in their sights, "Be a man and have a drink! Take off that skirt, and eat some steak!" Wave after wave in rapid fire. My closest friend, the Irishman, eased off the gas and reiterated his support for my dietary efforts. However, the Brit and the Kiwi had their goggles on, and their scarves waving in the air as they took turns in their bi-planes buzzing me with insult machine guns blazing as if King Kong was being attacked on the Empire State Building. Everything from my sexuality to my mental capacity was challenged because of my veganism, and sobriety. All in good humor of course, but this is where I derive my strength. As I batted insults back at them I relished more and more my resolve to change my lifestyle in such a hostile environment. It is empowering to say no to that celebratory shot of whiskey, and ignore the sizzling steak slowly passed under my nose. I loved it. I love the challenge.

The more my friends failed at breaking my diet, the better I felt.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day 75

My principal Design was to Inform,
and not to amuse thee

- Johnathan Swift in "Gulliver's Travels"

I think, and re-think about the purpose of this vegan quest daily, and it was all the more fitting that I spent last night at one of New York City's best bars, Swift's Hibernian Lounge. Amongst the rich wood, aroma of ale, and literary paraphernalia I thought about my principal design of this effort.

Oh, sure, thinking about the documentation of the last 75 days I certainly enjoy amusing people, but, the unintended result was informing people about healthy eating, and motivation.

The motivation of others does not come from some stirring speech, or tearful plea, rather it comes from the fact that I am an everyman. I was a poster child of over-indulgence, and since I chose this endeavor people who know me are shocked. It's like watching that fat guy run in the marathon, the natural reaction is, "If he can do it, I can do it." I guess that has been the most gratifying moment thus far - not so much the weight I have lost, but because people tell me they tend to eat healthier after reading the blog.

For years, and years I thought the value I had to give was to amuse those gathered around at a pub.

But now, I can go to a great pub, order a cup of coffee, as seen here with my good drinking buddy, and tell people about Phytonutrients: the natural bioactive compounds found in fruits and vegetables that works together with vitamins, minerals, and fiber to promote good health. Ahhhhh, who am I kidding, I can't help myself but tell amusing stories in a pub!

"So, I once dated a hand model, and while at a cigar bar..."(Story, told in person only -- for legal reasons)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Although a Great Meal, Neither Emril, nor Bobby, nor Gordon Need Worry

I cook by feeling, not measurements. Therefore, I can never have my own show on the Food Network! Though these actual pictures of the meal (rice, edamame, and stir fry) look pretty good, no?

I cooked my first vegan dinner for a friend - a non-vegan. Actually, for you faithful readers, it was the skeptical doctor. I still had something to prove!

My kitchen is of the sort usually found in a 100 year-old New York City fourth floor walk-up apartment -- minuscule.

The kitchen counter space from end to end is 57 inches. Well, you say, you can work with that, right? Well, in those 57" please find a stove, a counter, AND a sink! So, in actuality I am working with 19" of space to prepare my vegan cutting board is 18".

The menu last night was chicken stir fry, and VBites Spicy Soya Sausage and Chorizo over organic rice. The rice - easy. The Spicy Chorizo - easier. The plastic bag was slit, the bag placed in the microwave, two and a half minutes later the piping hot meal was spread over the rice. Bingo. It was spicy, and very good! On to the stir fry.

The key - vegetables. Fresh. Many colors.

With my trusty knife, and 18" of cutting board (plus 1" of counter top space) I went to work. First, a giant red onion...I tend to tear-up when cutting onions, so I saved it for last (a guy should never tear-up on a date, unless you're watching "Brian's Song.")...I mean, I really made sure it was the last thing I sliced and added to the mix...the very, very last thing...but then, while cleaning the dishes after dinner I realized that giant, unmolested red onion was still sitting on the dish rack. Now, I am sure onions would do a world of good in my stir fry, but it was excellent without it, too!

Alright, so ignore the onion. In rapid succession I sliced up red peppers, yellow peppers, and orange peppers. I grabbed my giant, multi-purpose, bachelor, silver bowl often used for cereal, or salad, or popcorn, or, in a pinch, a dog water dish. To my dinner guest: I'm joking! And put all the vegetables in the bowl. In addition to the peppers, I sliced up shiitake mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, and brussel sprouts. Also threw in some soy beans. I had a bag of shelled edamame beans and boiled those, then added to this magical bowl of multicolor vegetables.

My guest was eager to help, but being the all-in-charge chef in my Altoids tin sized kitchen I told her to back away. She told me later that the words, "Don't forget about the onion" were on her lips, but she kept mum.

Since I am documenting this 6 month vegan experiment I employed her as the video cameraman. Time to document the Third Avenue Iron Chef! Aaaand, "Action!"

First, I grab two packets of VBites "chicken" pieces. I've had this soy-based "chicken" before, and it does taste quite like chicken after I fry it up. I browned (what is the past tense of "brown?") the fake chicken, and put it on a dish to the side -- by this time I was using the kitchen sink in my personal plate placement puzzle.

Now, I can only assume that different vegetables fry (or grill) at different rates. However, did I mention that I do NOT have a cooking show on the Food Network regardless of the fact that Sophia Coppola with a PHD was standing in my kitchen?

I placed this patch work of vegetables into the frying pan, stirring in a little ginger stir fry sauce, and sprinkled in some garlic powder. Using a wooden spoon I stirred the stir fry for, for...have no idea. Until it looked ready. Rather, until it felt ready -- about the time it took me to tell my story on camera about my one and only day as a waiter at a famous French restaurant on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, back in 1992.

I then stirred in the VBites "chicken" for as long as it took me to tell the epilogue of my one and only day working as a waiter, and serve.

My brave dinner guest, with one eye on the forgotten onion, and the other eye cocked sideways as she just witnessed the wingingist of all winging it recipes, dug in.


The meal was great, really great. The rainbow collage of vegetables complimented each other, and by cooking all at once, and for some undefinable length of time, the carrots were perfect in tenderness, while the brussel sprouts a perfect crunch. (OK, between 5-10 minutes).

Both cook, and guest were thrilled with the result - the key being the variety, and freshness of vegetables!

You know, I do remember the taste of a great meat dish, but after the taste is gone I was left with a full stomach of animal flesh. With a belly full of vegetables, and soy-based "meat," there is no guilt, and no regrets! Though I doubt a nutrient-dense diet is what Edith Piaf was singing about.

OK, so I passed the date test. Next up, inviting my buddies over for some vegan home cooking! As mentioned, ladies are too mature, and too nice to complain (although the good doctor did seem genuinely pleased with my efforts). The true test of my vegan culinary skills will be when I try to trick my buddies with a vegan chili, or vegan lasagna!

A Two Day Craving

I have spent the last two days craving a glass of beer and a tuna sandwich.

Of all the meats, and all the fish, and all the dairy products that I have lived on daily for decades, and then eviscerated from my life these past two months, I pick a soggy tuna fish sandwich to crave. Oh, but not just any tuna fish sandwich, but the tuna fish sandwich that I used to get in High School at the first health food store I ever saw. It was a place called Cultured Taste in Chatsworth, CA - it served frozen yogurt which was the magical dessert of the late 70's, early 80's. People spoke about frozen yogurt as if you could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner and live to be 120.

Well, Cultured Taste also served sandwiches and the only one I ever ordered, in the Drive-Thru, was the tuna sandwich on wheat bread with slices of avocado, and bean spouts. Incredible!

All these peculiar desires that I have for food are quite specific, and usually take me back to my youth. Odd.

Well, the craving was smashed by a smashing meal I made tonight.

I'll write about it first thing tomorrow, it's late, and I am watching a Ricky Gervais comedy concert on HBO and he just told a quite vulgar joke that involved tea and biscuits. And, yes, you guessed it, I am craving tea (and I have soy milk to add), and biscuits. No idea where to buy vegan biscuits at this hour! It's quarter past 1 in the morning! But I want biscuits - vegan biscuits - do they exist? I started this post about my last 48 hours craving a tuna sandwich from Cultured Taste and a glass of ale, and now I am hooked on tea and biscuits from a dirty Ricky Gervais joke! Help! OK, now I am thinking about a late night in Dublin when an Irish girl, a student at Trinity, offered me tea and biscuits (can I say crumpets? Are they the same thing?) after a long night of drinking, and I must say it was excellent. So, now I am thinking about Fiona and the red velvet rocking chair I sat in back in 1997 drinking tea late one night.

OK, I better stop writing before my mind latches on to the next random food related experience from my about the meal I made tomorrow morning...morning, good morning, it was a Saturday, March of 1978, I had OJ, pancakes and sausage...Oh, come on!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Fast Food

Hummus and fruit -- it's my go-to fast food...and some cheesy chips, salsa and guacamole.

I was not the vegan gourmet this weekend except for making my salad, and some oatmeal, and grilled some VBites breakfast sausage which was quite good, but I like the Sage and Marjoram better. But I was very surprised by the Vbites cheese. One of my quick, decadent snacks of old was chips (tortilla crisps my UK friends), melted cheddar cheese and salsa. Last night I got some organic chips, added slices of VBites cheddar "cheese" and popped it into the microwave. It melted, not as cheesy, and complete as regular cheese, but it melted, and tasted pretty damn good for being fake cheese. I had taken avocados, tomato, and onions and made some guacamole. A very tasty snack with no dairy, and a fresh dip without any preservatives.

Saturday night I picked my friend up for dinner and a show. Now, no where in "dinner," "show," and "NYC" does "vegan" rear its head. So, in order to keep a seamless evening I munched on some hummus and bread before I went out. The show was at 7:30, dinner was later, and since I had some different options in mind, I was not sure which way dinner was headed.

We saw Linda Purl at the Metropolitan Room. She sang cabaret, and was excellent. She is known as Pam's mother on "The Office" but my date and I were more impressed with her being Fonzi's fiance on "Happy Days." Linda is the wife of a friend and after congratulating her on an excellent show my friend and I walked out into the cold to find dinner. I knew Markt was down the street and that was one of my options. I wrote about Markt, the Belgian restaurant, back on November 16th.

Markt had on their menu a pasta and vegetable dish that was very good - a tad too much garlic, but very good. Interestingly, there was a note on the menu that stipulated *No dairy, no meat. I certainly don't remember that on the menu when I had lunch there back in November. In my fantasy world I imagine my conversation with the waiter back then resulted in this new vegan option at Markt. Again, my blog, my fantasy.

True to form, my friend was loathed to order what she wanted so as to be sensitive to my diet. Why? Again, if I may make large judgements about women; why are they so nice? A guy friend would not think twice about ordering a juicy steak and beer. I had to plead with her to order what she wanted - a bouillabaisse and glass of wine. Please, just hours earlier I was at Sutton Place with friends who just won their football game gorging themselves on chicken wings and buckets of beer. That didn't bother me, and neither would her bouillabaisse!

I want people to have fun around me, I want people to indulge, and over-indulge around me. It is a kick to fight off the personal urges, and I certainly do not want people to tip-toe around me because of my new lifestyle.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Friday - A Briefer Synopsis


I remember as a kid riding my bike after school with friends to Pizza Hut. Nothing unusual about a pack of 13 year old kids descending on a pizza parlour. But on this day I don't remember if they were running a price special, or they had recently introduced this new element, or that this bar was there all along, and some friends said it's good. Whatever the reason, I discovered this new thing called an "All You Can Eat Salad Bar!" I piled up a plate of salad which included virtually every known vegetable (and pizza, of course). I remember it was delicious...but, it was only a salad!

We had salads at home with dinner usually, but it consisted of iceberg lettuce, slices of cucumber, radishes, and cherry tomatoes (which my brother hated - I'll never forget how my father "assisted" my brother in eating his cherry tomato after a 20 minute stand-off with my mother), all in a small wooden bowl and smothered in Thousand Island dressing. But this salad bar had everything. I ate so much salad that I could not finish my pizza. I remember that that day I realized that a salad could be a meal, not just a requisite pre-dinner tradition.

People often tell me that there is no way they could eat salad everyday. Why? People eat burgers, or pizza, or fried chicken everyday. They do it because it tastes good. Plus, you don't want to eat a salad everyday, fine, Vbites has an entire stock of healthy food alternatives. But, salad has a connotation that screams less filling. Not true!

So, Friday, I built a giant bowl of salad - not in a nice wooden one like my father picked up in Thailand during the war, rather a large stainless steal bowl that a bachelor would use for either a salad, or giant bowl of cereal, or fill with pretzels during a party, or even use as a water bowl if his buddy and his Rottweiler come over for a visit.

Lettuce, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, broccoli (it was also at Pizza Hut that I realized I really liked broccoli - in my mind if a vegetable came from Mom's kitchen it was gross, but from a pizza parlour it was delicious), and red/orange/green peppers, mushrooms, avocado, chickpeas, kidney beans, radishes, and flax seeds which are an excellent source for needed Omega 3's which are also found in fish. All with some balsamic dressing very lightly poured on.

How great a feeling to have your belly full, and your taste buds satisfied, and knowing that what you just ate will greatly nourish your body.

Salad, it's a meal! Build your own, build what you like, it tastes good and is good for you --- just lay off the tub of bleu cheese dressing.