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Pleasures of the Flesh


It Ain't Easy Eating Greens

Forgive me, for I am weak. I have eaten a vegetarian diet for nine months now -- since the end of last August -- and I still find myself craving meat. I am as mediocre a vegetarian as I am everything else. For shame! For shame!!

Vegetarians, you see, are not supposed to like meat. True vegetarians detest meat and animal products in all their tasty, wonderful guises. They cannot listen to talk of sausages or meatballs or curried chicken without crinkling their noses in disgust. They wear gas masks when passing by Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets, to shield themselves from the noxious, finger-licking-good fumes that saturate the air. But I am not pure of heart. I drink in KFC fumes like cheap wine, intoxicating myself as thoughts of 11 herbs and spices drift through my head. One of my vegetarian friends assured me that I would soon learn to sicken at the thought of eating meat, that my body would revolt at the very thought of munching on a pepperoni stick or a bowl of Hamburger Helper. Alas! Nine months have passed -- long enough to have a baby! -- and I still think these sinful thoughts. Fie on me! Fie! If only my passion for a meatless life matched my passion for melodrama! Fie!

Of course I don't want to turn back. I understand that vegetarianism is the True Path. "Animals are my friends," George Bernard Shaw said, "And I don't eat my friends." I had plenty of motivation to make my decision:

With all this motivation beating me over the head, it's surprising that I am such a poor vegetarian. Alas, I miss my meat sometimes. For all of the wonderful vegetables and vegetarian meals I have wolfed down over the last nine months, I still find myself hungering for my favourite meaty meals.

Meaty Meals

Welcome to my catharsis, where I pay tearful homage to those dearly departed meals that have left my life. I'm not going to say that any of these dishes changed my life -- that would just be silly -- but they all tasted good, and even now I miss them. Meat, this is my eulogy to you! Blackmailers, take note: here is all the ammunition you will ever need to lead me into temptation!

The Gentle Reader will notice a few trends as she or he peruses my loving list. First of all, these dishes are listed in no particular order other than the one in which I thought them up. Secondly, I like flavourful foods. The Vegan Queen tells me that the spices and fat in meat make it taste good, not the meat itself. I can easily believe her; most of the dishes I like are flavourful and spicy. Finally, the Gentle Reader will note my preference for processed meats. I have never liked steaks or ribs or other meats that looked as if they might have come from mammals. My meats were usually chopped up or ground or otherwised masked in some way so that I could conveniently forget that my meal bled to death in an abbatoir. The exception to this rule was poultry -- I had no problem chowing down on chicken drumsticks -- although I am not quite certain why.


My mother made these dishes in exactly the same way: She would take ground cow and an egg and onions and breadcrumbs (which we prepared by tearing old slices of bread into bits) and chopped chili peppers and spices and mix them all into a goop. Then she would either shape them into balls and brown them (if we were having meatballs) or put the goop into a baking pan (for meatloaf) and throw our ambrosia into the oven for a while.

The end result? Bliss. Every other meatball I have ever tried has been bland and rubbery; my mother's meatballs were fiery and chewy and juicy. I couldn't get enough of them; if I had not had to share with the other people who lived in my house, I could have finished a tray of meatloaf or a batch of meatballs in a sitting and a half. When spaghetti was served with our meatballs, I would break exactly one into bits to give the spaghetti a little flavour. Then I would escort the other meatballs to the side of my plate to eat at the end of my meal, after I had wolfed down my spaghetti and drank my milk. That way, the spicy goodness of meatball would linger in my mouth for the rest of the evening. Yummy!

Curried Chicken (with Rice)

One of my all-time favourite dishes has to be curried chicken with rice. By "curried," I mean that the chicken is boiled in a spicy curry sauce, not that the chicken is coated Shake-and-Bake style (that will be a later entry).

The appeal of this meal isn't really in the chicken, although the meat is soft and juicy enough (It's boiled -- what do you expect?). It is the "curried rice" part of the equation that makes all of the difference. Unlike some other Indian families, our staple carbohydrate was roti -- a type of unleavened flatbread similar to those used in wraps. We didn't eat rice often, so I never got a chance to get sick of it. And my, that rice was good! To this day I wil never understand how people are able to eat plain rice -- my rice has to be awash in flavour.

The herb that makes all the difference in curried chicken (and just about every other "soup-based" curry I know of) is coriander. Coriander leaves are the herb of the gods. I am not eloquent enough to describe the impact coriander has on a dish -- it doesn't add fire to a meal, but flavour, just like oregano allows tomato sauce to transcend mortal food. Curried chicken and rice was good enough on its own, but adding good, fresh coriander leaves to the mix increases the pleasure intensity of the meal by several orders of magnitude.

Baked Tandoori Chicken

Tandoori powder comes in a wide cylindrical bottle and costs $2.99 at the local Indian store. We would mix Tandoori powder with breadcrumbs, salt, black and red pepper, and a bit of garam masala, and use the mixture to coat skinned chicken backs and drumsticks.

When it is fresh out of the oven, Tandoori chicken is at its best. The dish appeals to me because of its warmth -- the crunchy Tandoori coating seals in the chicken juices, so when you bite into a fresh hot drumstick, you get a mouthful of savoury crunchy hot tender chicken flesh that warms your esophagus all the way down to your stomach.

The other notable aspect of this chicken is the soft gunk that forms on the bottom of the chicken pieces. We baked Tandoori chicken on a baking sheet, so whatever chicken fat leaked out of the chicken would congeal with the coating on the bottom of the piece, forming a tasty Tandoori goo. I would call it gravy, but it wasn't a liquid -- if anything, it was rather pudding-like. Whatever you called it, it was satisfying. Fat and spices all the way, baby!


Occasionally, I would crave those little disgusting breakfast sausages. Then I would fry up a batch, eat them and be cured for a few months, until I forgot just how fatty they were and fell in lust all over again.

I wish curing myself of real sausages was so easy. We all know what I am talking about when I say real sausages. I'm talking about those huge flavourful phallic symbols hot dog vendors wrap in a toasted egg bun and sell for three bucks apiece. To this day I feel pangs of desire when I pass by a hotdog stand and allow the fumes to waft into my nose. It's a good thing they are so expensive, or I would find resistance even more futile.

For some reason, hotdogs were never good enough for me. I always went after the big game -- a big Italian sausage, saturating its egg bun with grease. I would put on hot pepper rings and onions and relish and ketchup, and sauteed mushrooms and onions if they were available, and I would avoid the mustard at all costs, because mustard is just disgusting and people who like it are certifiably strange. And then I would dig in -- chomping bite after bite of juicy sausage bits -- and ten minutes later my snack would be all gone. I never learned how to pace myself properly when chowing down on those sausages.

I suppose that I suffered my worst bout of sausage eating when I took my first class on the downtown campus at U of T. The course was CSC 364 -- "Computability and Complexity," -- and the professor was awful. I hated that course with a passion, because I knew that the material was interesting, and would have been a few orders more enjoyable if we had been blessed with a competent professor. So I drowned my sorrows in sausages, much to the chagrin of my ardent vegetarian friend. I think that I bought a vegetarian hotdog once. I made him eat a piece, because it wasn't made of meat. He hated the hotdog morsel and the veggie dog gave me gas, so I stuck to expensive sausages for the rest of that course.

And no, I don't know exactly what goes into sausages. I get the impression that sausages are made up of all those leftover bits of animal that nobody else would want to eat. I think I would be interested in finding out, now that I don't eat sausages anymore. But if you are going to tell me, make sure my stomach is empty. Cleaning up vomit is not my idea of a good time.

Hamburger Helper

And while we are talking about vomit, let's mention ground cow and its uses. Spices and fat are dominating themes when discussing Hamburger Helper, but the third aspect of this winning combination is the pasta. I am a sucker for starch, and when you combine starches and proteins in my meals, I am generally a happy freak. Therein lies the appeal of meatballs and meatloaf, and therein lies my attraction to Hamburger Helper.

Despite the trademark, I am going to defy Betty Crocker and refer to all brands of pasta/flavour/ground cow mixes as "Hamburger Helper," because it sounds more appetizing than "pasta and ground cow meal." Betty Crocker can beat me with her wooden spoon if she doesn't like me advertising her products for free.

Hamburger Helper is greasy and filling, and it slides down your gullet like kids down a waterslide. I liked eating it when it was hot and saucy, and I liked eating it when it was cold, so the sauce coagulated into greasy jelly. I liked wolfing down entire chunks without chewing, and I liked lingering over mouthfuls, carefully nibbling each chewy noodle and gritty bit of cow (We always cooked our cow thoroughly to avoid disease; my maternal unit had a justifiable phobia of pink meat). I would eat it on a boat. I would eat it with a goat (As long as we were eating off separate plates). If it had been available, I would even try a Green Eggs and Ham flavour... once.

And oh! The flavours! I liked the Cheesy Italian and Spicy Italian and Beef Strogonoff and Mexican Taco varieties, although we didn't buy the latter too frequently because it cost more than the other kinds -- it must have been that packet of sour cream powder that drove up the price. We would make a package up in the evening, and -- just like the girl with the kalideoscope eyes -- in the morning it would be gone.

My parental units looked down upon Hamburger Helper, because it was not as natural as home cooking. It occupied the same caste as fish sticks, because it came out of a box. But it ranked much higher than garbage foods like TV dinners and Savarin meat pies, which just goes to show that there is still some justice in this world.

Fish Cakes

My fraternal unit hates fish cakes. He thinks that they are disgusting. He's probably right -- fish cakes and fish sticks are probably the aquatic equivalent of sausages. But I loved fish cakes for their texture. Unlike fish sticks, you couldn't actually distinguish the bits of fish flesh. It was as if the flesh had been pureed. You would bite into the crunchy crumb coating, and the fish puree would ooze into your mouth, consistent as mashed potatoes. I have only encountered one other meat product with that texture, and that was the pate they sold at delis. I liked that stuff, too.

In terms of flavour, fish cakes were indistinguishable from most of the minced fish products I have eaten. It was the texture that put fish cakes ahead of the competition.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

This craving is weird. Every time I pass by the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Burnhamthorpe Road, I smell the wonderful fried-chicken chemicals they pump in the air to draw us in, and my commitment to my vegetarian diet weakens. I stand across from the shop and snort whiffs of fried bliss, knowing full well that I will no longer eat Kentucky Fried Corpses, and knowing that I don't really like them anyways.

That is a lie. I do like KFC -- at least for the first five minutes, when I gobble down as much of the crispy, salty breaded skin and greasy flesh as I can. Then all of the fat makes me sick to my stomach, and I wonder how I could have ever craved these deep-fried grease sponges. Back when I ate meat, I would go through this cycle again and again -- first I would pay the obscene amounts of money for two piddly pieces of chicken, then I would stuff my face, feel disgusted for a few months, and start my craving all over again. Sometimes I think it is only my empty pocketbook that prevents me from lunging into that shop and continuing the cycle.

There are other temptations lurking in the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, of course. Popcorn chicken was a brilliant marketing scheme, because everybody knows that it's the skin and the coating -- not the meat -- of the chicken that everybody craves most. Furthermore, the KFC franchise knows that their chicken is the worst, most fattening fast food you can buy, so they don't bother pandering to health concerns with any of their other products. Theirs is the Altar of Fat. Their salads are creamy and fattening and divine. Their cheesecakes-in-a-cup are (relatively) cheap, incredibly tangy and filling, and an excellent source of dietary heart disease. They give away entire McCain's Deep and Delicious cakes with their Harvest Mega Meals -- dense, wonderfully sweet cakes drowned in carefully applied icing. Is it any wonder I find Kentucky Fried Chicken so hard to resist?

Chicken Wings

Chicken wings are the hardest part of being a vegetarian. Period. If they weren't so expensive, I have no doubt that I would have fallen long long ago. Kentucky Fried Chicken may be the Altar of Fat, but Chicken Wing shops are where the carnivorous gods go to eat.

Chicken Wings are not food, you see. They try and convince you that they are food by burying slivers of meat-flesh deep beneath their spicy coated skin. In reality, chicken wings are a drug, the wildly successful results of an experiment to take the mantra of "fat and spices" to its highest, most transcendent form. Chicken wings are composed of skin, spices, bones and those slivers of meat. One does not eat chicken wings; one slurps down the flavourful skin, then gnaws on the bones.

Rumour has it that three chicken wings saturate one's daily allowable fat tolerance. But who eats just three chicken wings? That's like brushing a third of your teeth in the morning, or shaving half your beard. If you are going to eat chicken wings, you have to engorge yourself with an orgy of chicken wings, styrofoam containers and styrofoam containers of lovely slimy fiery fatty wonderful goodness.

Oh! My heart! Please excuse me for a few minutes while I get my heart rate down. My therapist says I shouldn't get all excited like this.

That's better. Where was I? Oh yes. Chicken wings. Don't ever eat chicken wings, kids. Don't even start. They'll ruin your life and your life savings, they will. Your friends might think that eating chicken wings is cool. They might even offer you a few for free, "just to try them out." Don't believe them! Don't take the bait! That first chicken wing will change you. It will take over your life! Once you start, you will probably convince yourself that you are only eating chicken wings for fun, that you can stop any time you want. But by the time you realize the error of your ways, it will be too late. You too will be an obese chicken wing addict. The Cabal of chicken-wing manufacturers will have you in its claws. Don't let that happen to you! Stay away from the chicken wings!

Now if you will excuse me, I have to daydream about lunch now.