Thursday, September 25, 2014

Agricola, Princeton New Jersey

Midsummer I had the opportunity to lunch at Agricola, a relatively new farm-to-table restaurant in Princeton, NJ.


I'm not generally a fan of farm-to-table, as it is the restaurant manifestation of the humane meat myth, i.e., bullshit that makes people feel better about doing the wrong thing.  To that end, I give you exhibit A:

Might I remind Michael Pollan, champion of making people feel better about eating animals as long as it's after 6:00pm [correction: I'm getting Mark Bittman confused with Michael Pollan here (thanks, food feud!)], of two things:
  1. animals don't come from plants
  2. the alternative to eating things from a plant is to simply eat plants.
But, I digress.  If you're detecting my animosity, I should share that the first blogpost that appeared on the Agricola website in anticipation of their opening had a picture of a happy (live) chicken with vague references to what their food would be like.  So vague, in fact, that many people- myself included, left comments asking if the restaurant would be vegan and/or vegetarian.  They never addressed the inquiries in the time I was checking back and have since removed the comments from the site entirely.  I'm not saying they have to be a vegan restaurant, I'm just saying that I'm not the only person who equates smiling chickens to living chickens that are not at risk of being killed for food.

But, I digress again.  I was in the area and decided to see just what a farm to table restaurant could offer a vegan.

The cheery sign outside was not an indication of the greeting we received once inside; there was a confusing delineation between the bar hostess and the dining room hostess, which for us meant that since we were hoping to eat in the dining room, the bar hostess stood silently facing us while averting her eyes as we waited uncomfortably for our designated hostess.

Thankfully, our waitress was a gem from the get-go.  And I'm not just saying that because she recommended these fantastic drinks.  Left: blackberry bramble with greenhook gin, blackberry liqueur, blackberries, lemon.  Right: watermelon cooler with nj rum, watermelon, lime, mint.

Or because the dining room boasts pickling in action.

As it was the only vegan appetizer on offer, we went ahead and ordered the pickled and fermented vegetable plate to share, which was comically presented when the runner mis-identified most of the readily identifiable vegetables on the plate and even boasted some (celery?) that wasn't there at all.  It is a particular pet-peeve of mine when upscale restaurants do not staff appropriately, but this was a relatively minor foul.

We enjoyed, but it was missing the wow-factor- both in taste and presentation.

The drinks were generously liquored and at this point I was feeling a bit too woozy for mid-day.  I'm not sure why, but we had to specifically ask for bread even though the station was right behind us.  Is bread-upon-request a thing?

For lunch, I started with the carrot soup.  The waitress told us that their soups are usually vegan but to always alert the server because sometimes there is a creme fraiche garnish or some such that can be easily left off.  I make a mean carrot soup myself, but I still have to admit that this one was outstanding.

To accompany my soup, I chose the market salad, which was described as "whatever the farmer brings."  The possibilities seemed endless since I was seated facing the current offerings posted as swiss chard, leek, zucchini, chloggia beet, arugula, black prince tomato, french fingerling potato, kohlrabi, turnip, toscano kale, breakfast radish, black cherry tomato, fennel, curly kale, and brandywine tomato!

Yet somehow I was served an extremely small, relatively pathetic salad of romaine, with a few paper-thin slices of radish, 2-3 string beans, jicama, and beet.  Farm to table failure at it's finest.

Not pictured is VM's vegetarian flatbread, which she seemed to enjoy.

I asked about vegan desserts and they had some fruity sorbet that fell under the category of N.I.

On the plus side, there were these innovative light fixtures made of overturned crystal vases.

And these interesting decorations dividing the otherwise communal tables.

Removing the ridiculous way "farm-to-table" establishments have capitalized on the humane myth, I do think that Agricola has potential for vegans; but, the first step would be to welcome them by offering explicitly identified vegan items on the menu- and to make them impressive (i.e. not a sad, limp salad in a shallow, diner-like bowl).  Let us all keep in mind that a farm is not just a place to imagine your food leading a happy life up until meeting its demise to satisfy your selfish palate; it is also, ideally, where one would find land lush with veggies. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

This is Not a Fitness Blog

I know what you're thinking: this obviously isn't a fitness blog.  But, in an effort to be a more fit, healthy example of a vegan being, I've been participating in an adventure of sorts.  I'm going to share the story; please indulge me.

This past spring I finally scheduled a foot surgery I'd been putting off since high school.  As the June date approached I had a lot of misgivings about the timing and specifics; so, after some last-minute advice and deliberation, I cancelled.  It was the right decision, but I told myself that instead of the surgery I was going to have to make extra good use of my unexpectedly mobile summer.  

By mid-August I was up for a challenge, though, and I decided to start the C25Kfree app I'd installed with the best of intentions…at least 2 years ago.

I am not a fit person by nature or nurture, but I am surrounded by people who not only exercise, but love it.  While I enjoy walks, swimming, and biking: all at a leisurely pace and in extreme moderation, my friends run the gamut from occasional runners to fitness class regulars to marathoners to triathletes.  I haven't read Finding Ultra but I can certainly understand the basic premise: feeling older than you thought possible and less fit than you ever expected.  So, C25K.  

I started deliberately with no intention of missing a day of the program.  When I found myself complying on my birthday weekend I barely recognized myself and knew I'd committed.  There were days when I felt like I couldn't believe I was able to do it and there were days when I was afraid I was in even worse shape than the targeted couch potato, but the weeks were going by and I never missed a day...never cheated.  Much like the inspirational (and sometimes 89-arugula supplier) Sheryl Yvette, I appreciate what my legs can accomplish.

I should mention that 89, as in all things, is my partner in this.  My friends had warned me not to over-exercise her, but seeing as she was pulling me through the brisk walks as well as the jogging portions of the program right along, I felt confident she was doing just fine.  If she slowed down- usually for a sniff, I'd say, "If I can do this, you can do this," and we'd continue.  While she certainly doesn't need the exercise as much as I do, she really enjoys the adventure of it all.  And so do I.


I've met so many more of my neighbors than I ever would have otherwise.  They wave, smile, chat (that's what the app's pause button is for), and just generally cheer us on from their porches, driveways, and cars.  Only a few weeks in two separate neighbors casually referred to me as a runner and I found myself embarrassed until my pal convinced me, "If you're running, you're a runner!" And not only are we runners, but we are visible members of our community.  The adult soccer team that practices near my house now knows to ignore 89's tremendous ruckus when we pass and when the nearby firemen want to get my attention they yell out, "Shoes!"  Bet you can't guess why.

89 and I have also met so many neighborhood dogs that it's been a huge boon to her species socialization.  She still barks ferociously at people on bicycles (sorry; I know it's startling and we're working on it) and parks her furry behind on the asphalt until strangers acknowledge her, but at least I think she's learning her left from her right as we turn corners.

I should also mention the part my fitbit plays in all this.  I purchased it in January and often struggled to steadily reach my minimum 10,000 steps at least 6 days/week since then, but this running has opened up a whole new world.  At least once a week I'm reminded of the old Nike commercials, "An object in motion tends to stay in motion.  An object at rest tends to stay at rest." (No offense, Isaac.)  I'm now in the running for a top spot (usually third) of all my fitbit friends on the regular.  Instead of hoping for a 7 day average of 70,000 steps I strive for 100,000.  I keep moving when normally I'd lean or sit.  People send me taunts instead of cheers.  And my fitbit congratulates me instead of telling me to "get moving": the true sign of success.

I also feel better.  My neck that has been uncomfortably stiff for years is not.  Joints that have cracked regularly no longer do so.  My posture is much improved and my lower back doesn't cramp anymore. As if all that isn't enough, I've even been led to believe that I'm being spruced up on a cellular level!


I have not lost any weight.  I'm not sure if that's why I started this, but it certainly hasn't happened yet.  But do you know what's more important?  I feel so much stronger…in so many ways.  Years ago I went with my boyfriend to learn self-defense from his karate instructor.  I left frustrated and defeated because neither of them had any idea what self-defense meant for a woman and I learned nothing.  Women are less likely to get punched in the face and have to fight back; we tend to get surprised from behind and have to react.  My new found strength- whether real or imagined, mental or physical, is one step in the direction of fighting back with confidence and having a chance to defend myself (or successfully run away) if necessary.

But back to more fun stuff: that sneakered pooch who truly makes this running business an adventure. As our pal Gone Pie would say, 89 "threw a shoe" one day mid-run and we had to retrace our steps uphill until we found it.  She also has the uncanny ability of relieving herself of number 2 when we're as far as humanly possible from a garbage can.  This is made all the more amusing by the fact that I bought a super-large pack of poop "bags" that, when you open them, are not sealed and so exist as nothing more than a square of plastic that I have to attempt to messily knot corner to corner. Let's just say there was one day when I coined the term "shit shirt" and leave it at that.  I still didn't quit!


In case you're wondering, in the process 89's shoes have protected her from unavoidable glass shards, stepped-upon bees, and other animal's puke- although they did nothing when she discovered a snake in the road; I had to rely on my own lightning quick leash reflexes for that.  Her groomer was also impressed that her pads and nails weren't showing any wear and tear from the exercise.  When I told her about the sneaks she recommended only some corn starch sprinkled inside and gave us the green light to keep on keeping on.


While I'm yammering on I do want to say that while I'm sorry that I haven't been able to participate in Vegan MoFo this year, I have been keeping busy- with this exercise business, for one thing.  I also started a new job over the summer and I've known for a while that some of my coworkers were planning to participate in a charity 5k scheduled for right around the end of the 6th week of my 9-week couch to 5k program.  In addition to never actually planning to run one (I've speed-walked a few in the past), I knew all along I wouldn't be ready even if I wanted to do it.  But in week 5 a coworker specifically asked me to participate.  It was probably out of pity, as she is way fitter than me and certainly didn't need the running companionship equivalent of a walrus that I would provide, but her offer was made in genuine friendship so I took a few days to deliberate.  "You regret the things you don't do more than the things you do" went through my mind more than once, but so did the thought of what I might look like panting and sweating around relatively new colleagues I hoped to eventually impress, not frighten.  While I was discussing the decision with a friend, he brought up the endurance aspect of running, which I'd actually never thought of before.  The more I contemplated the more I realized: I'm great at non-physical long-term sports like grudge holding, so I just need to consider the act of running in a different light that plays to my own personal strengths!


In these past few weeks I have also used running to quell some of my weaknesses.  I've learned along the way that the less of a big deal I've made of it- the less of a big deal it's been.  Yes, I have to come home from my long commute to quickly change and get (6) sneakers on in order to squeeze in at least an hour before it gets dark out (boo).  Yes, it involves more laundry and more hair washing.  But, big deal!  I don't think about it; I just do it.  And for those of you that think it requires money at the outset: I don't have fancy gear at all.  I did buy one pair of running pants but I found sneaks in my closet and usually wear my vegan tees.  I don't have a phone band so I hold it.  I don't have sport-sunglasses, so I squint.  Maybe I'll remedy some of this, but so far it has all worked out just fine, so perhaps I should stop over-complicating other parts of my life (like the salad-spinner).


And then, mid-week 6 after I'd already enumerated all of the reasons why it didn't make sense to participate in an actual 5k just yet, I had a great run at home.  Don't get me wrong; I don't love running.  I don't even think I like it.  While I'm doing it, I'm thinking how horrible it is.  What keeps me going are two things: 1) I'm not a quitter and 2) while I'm not physically doing it, I am really glad to know that I have and will again- if only to perpetuate the self-satisfaction…if that makes any sense.  

But there are a few reasons this particular run was great.  For one, 89 met a deer while we were warming up.  

Then, I ran two 10-minute stretches without dying (always the fear) and only minor audible grunting.  In the middle of that, there was an adventure.  An adventure within an adventure, if you will.  89 & I were just beginning our second, continuous mile when I saw a young woman jogging towards me about 3 blocks away.  Of course I immediately thought, "Thank goodness I'm on a running portion;" there's nothing worse than passing someone running while you're walking and you want to yell that you're just in between!  Then I noticed she was wearing an adorable dress and I thought of what a sweaty muck I must look like* in comparison.  At this point my ridiculous thought process was interrupted by a sparkling, bright-eyed, unleashed jack russell that shot out of a yard I'd never noticed as having a dog before.  Obviously 89 wasted no time mauling the pooch with kisses whilst simultaneously tangling her leash with my earbud wire in such a way that made it impossible to quickly or gracefully disentangle.  As soon as I managed to do so I picked 89 up to allow for an assessment of the safety of the situation, and it finally occurred to me that this dog does not live in this house after all.  Also, people do not generally run in dresses.  It clicked and, as any self-respecting dog-mom would do, I managed to hold 89 under one arm while nonchalantly petting the Jack until I could slide my other arm around him and pick him up on my opposite side.  Thankfully, he was amenable.  It all happened so fast and before I knew it, there was the young woman right in front of me- on the verge of tears, thanking me profusely for "catching" her loose dog that she'd chased for blocks in and out of the road. Needless to say, I felt pretty good.  We were certainly in the right place at the right time.  And why?  Because: running.  I'm no Hope for Paws, but it was pretty thrilling.

And that's ultimately why I committed to running the 5K when it was 2 days away- even though I was 3 1/2 weeks away from completing the app.  My adrenaline was pumping on the way there and I was really excited that 89 could participate with me.  I truly expected to do great- which, in my mind, would have been to be able to jog the whole course.  But, as it turned out…not so much.  Not even close, in fact.  The people I ran "with" were rock stars and I waved them ahead early on when it was already obvious I couldn't keep up the pace.  When I got to the sign that said "mile 1" I was beat already- and a little demoralized.  I walked about half of mile 2 and possibly a bit more of mile 3- not even close to the good showing my practice days had been at home the previous week.  To her credit, 89 the sneakered dog was raring to go the entire time; I really held her back and that made me feel quite a bit worse.  So too did the loops where I could see the majority of folks ahead of me who were already looping back.  At one point about halfway through, the course ran past the start where I could see all of the people who had already finished; ouch.

Thank goodness for the volunteers that made each person running past feel like an Olympic athlete; that was probably what kept me from leaving the course for the ice cream that I knew was only a short distance away (closer than the finish line).  In the last .1 it occurred to me that running obviously isn't my thing and I was wondering if I should even bother finishing the app and what I should try next instead.


And then the finish was in sight and the coworker who had invited me- along with her friends, were waiting for me with cheers and a bottle of water: not at all mad that they'd had to wait over fifteen minutes, but rather in solidarity of our collective completion; it felt good.

I don't know why I had such a poor showing; maybe I started out at the pace of a crowd that was much too fast for me (my personal pace is not very fast at all) and lost my mojo too early.  Maybe I truly wasn't ready.  And, of course, it's possible that I just didn't try hard enough.  Ultimately I did jog more than half, so I'm learning not to focus on my laments since my friends have all been kind, generous, and quick with compliments for the finish regardless of my place (not good I tell you).

I'm not sure what the future holds as far as 5ks are concerned, but I can tell you that by the evening of the race I was already mapping out my running days for the following week per usual- proving that I hadn't completely given up.

While I didn't experience any soreness that day or the next, the first running day after the race proved painful around the ankles, so perhaps I didn't punk out as much as I'd thought.  As for the app, I haven't missed a day but I have fallen behind as far as what is expected in terms of consecutive running minutes.  However, what I can tell you for certain is that I'm getting better each time.  What more can I hope for?  Perhaps to parlay that into other aspects of my life that could use some practice.


*it's important to note that if you're jogging in public, people will look at you.  Whether boredom, judgement, or curiosity; they.  will.  look.  Get over it!  Just remind yourself that YOU are out there getting it done; all they're doing is gawking.