The following is a guest post from fellow vegan lent participant and my dear friend, Jon.
If you’re the kind of person who’s inclined to revel in the ridiculous, you likely have friends who are equally entertained by absurd undertakings. That’s why you and your friends are fun. You’ve also undoubtedly been so disposed for long enough to have a family who accepts your idiosyncrasies as essential to your character. You are you, and you are awesome. These are the things I tell myself to justify my role on this part of planet and it works pretty well. I’m generally content with myself, and provided I attempt to keep life choices on the better side of the balance, most people are content with me too. There are specific times, however, when family and friends are not quite my own and downward-inflected “Ohs” are a sure sign an observer does not share my propensity for good-natured, old-fashioned impulsiveness. Such rare occurrences typically transpire something like this:
JON: “I work from home.”
CRITIC: “That must be nice.”
JON: “Yeah, it’s a rare day when I wear pants to work.”
CRITIC: “Oh.” Dropping off to chirping crickets.
Self-imposed veganese could have gone either way, especially since an impromptu trip to the Netherlands put me on my Lenten diet in a land that was built on cheese and sausage. To their credit, dinner hosts and restaurant-venturing companions alike understood of my discretionary limitations. This is probably a result of a Dutch tradition of compromise. It’s been explained as a necessity when your country is no bigger than a postage stamp with almost no resources of your own. You hone negotiating skills for trade, which necessitates a degree of tolerance unknown on this side of the ocean. Anyway, many thanks to .NL residents for helping me through my first animal-less days. I don’t recall any “Ohs” … at least not resulting from my menu choices.
So what does a vegan eat in a country that prides itself on a heritage of dairy supremacy? Especially when menus are in a language that only a handful of people speak.
In this regard my eating habits have helped tremendously. I’m a nibbler throughout the day and typically sustain myself on a few handfuls of nuts and fruit. The trouble comes with the evening meal, when I fill myself to the gills. I therefore only needed to be overly concerned for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday. (Although my last minute travel plans neglected to include an airline meal request verification. Thankfully I was able to trade a mushy lump of lasagna for some sparse greens and a pasty cracker.)
It appears American cuisine is unique in its longevity. Where citizens of other countries typically enjoy fresh food, Americans are more inclined to consume food that’s chemically embalmed. There’s a certain pride in our resourcefulness … that we can outsmart nature with food that will never decompose. Have you ever gone into your cupboard and noticed a dusty box of indestructible sustenance and smiled when you realized – even though you can’t recall the day the box entered the darkness of your cupboard – the best-if-used-by-date is still several decades away. Well, people in other countries are not of that disposition and trying to describe it might render a few well-targeted “Ohs.” And it was nice to enjoy some simple dishes comprised mostly of vegetables and grains.
Wednesday dinner was at H’s very old friend’s home on the other side of the rivers … where people celebrate Carnival and dress like Smurfs and “Sexy Midgets.” Dinner was a delicious green coconut curry with rice and tofu. Rather than dusting off a box of Hamburger Helper, the Dutch have ingenious spice packets that measure the spices for favorite flavors. I believe it in my head to be a remnant of the spice trade, one thing the Dutch might have excelled at … what with their negotiation skills and all. The packages require cutting and mixing, but it’s remarkably easy to produce some very nutritious meals. And while it takes 30 seconds longer than instant mashed potatoes, the result is far superior. They also take no space in a suitcase … and you don’t need to be an expert at trade to get them through customs.
Thursday I made dinner with my future mother-in-law. It was protein deficient, but none the less tasty. Bulgur boiled in vegetable stock under stir-fried kale and onion under pan-roasted pine nuts.
Friday we were guests at a dinner party with some of Amsterdam’s most warm, inviting and genuinely beautiful-to-the-core people. I had a carrot soup that was ornately layered with flavor from potato to orange to ginger to cayenne. It was the best thing I’ve eaten as a vegan … the best thing I’ve eaten in weeks. The only things that would have made it better were the bacon bits and soft cheese that everyone but me raved about.
Saturday was our last night in .NL and we were able to spend a quiet dinner for three at a Moroccan deli. Aside from hints of saffron, which is too expensive for me to buy for home use, the only memorable item was a grilled artichoke that reminded me barbecue season is starting and I can’t eat meat (INSERT EXPLATIVE). At least I can try to replicate the artichoke. To the best my uneducated palate can discern, it was brushed with some sort of nut oil and fired until the insides turned to mush. It was extra nutty and really smoky … 33 days to perfect it.
Thanks again to everyone in the Netherlands for helping me though the first couple days. But more importantly, thank you for being you and being awesome.