January 31, 2008

The slightly deranged vegan chef presents: Wait, What?

I'm having a phenomenal week for extemporaneous cooking. Last week I finally got terminally sick of frozen tamales and started forcing myself to actually cook again, thanks to which I have two new recipes to present to you: Walnut-Chard Risotto and Bloody Amazing Sweet Potato Curry.


If you're not already aware, please consider the fact that risotto is criminally easy to make. You just get the right kind of rice and then it's a matter of adding veggie broth a little at a time and stirring for a half-hour. So:

1 cup arborio rice
3 tbsp Earth Balance
1 clove garlic, chopped or crushed
4 cups veggie broth plus 2 cups water
1/4 cup walnuts (or more!), chopped
2-3 large chard leaves, chopped

Heat the broth and water together in a saucepan, and keep them hot on a back burner. Melt a tbsp of the Earth Balance in a shallow pan (really, you do not want the high-sided pot you would normally use for rice) and stir in the rice and garlic. Cook and stir on medium-high heat for a couple of minutes -- when the garlic starts to turn color that's plenty -- then ladle in a cup or so of hot broth. Stir, stir, and keep stirring. When the rice has soaked up most of the liquid, add more and repeat.

Keep adding ladlefuls of hot broth and stirring. Add the walnuts after about 1/3 of the broth has been added, and the chard after about 2/3 of the broth. When the rice is cooked through, stir in a couple more tbsp. of Earth Balance and, if desired, a splash of soymilk. Stir, return to heat briefly if necessary, and snarf.

Bloody Amazing Sweet Potato Curry*

One of my classmates today got so distracted by the smell rising from my leftover serving of this that instead of talking about our parks project we wound up talking about what spices I'd used. My powers are strong.

1 medium yam or sweet potato
2x2x4 block of very firm tofu
1/2 bunch, or 3 large leaves, green chard
1 regular can coconut milk (maximum fatness!)
3-4 green onions
canola or olive oil
every spice you own. I'm serious.
garam masala
black pepper
chili powder
red pepper flakes

Dice the sweet potato and start it cooking in a tbsp or so of oil in a deepish skillet over medium heat. It doesn't have to get all the way done, just progressing nicely. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch chunks and add it to the skillet. Start dumping spices on top: little pinches of cloves and nutmeg and coriander and pepper flakes, and bigger shakes of ginger and black pepper and salt. Pour on the cinnamon and garam masala and chili powder like it's fucking going out of style.
When the tofu is starting to get those nice little browned edges from the hot pan, chop the chard and add it to the pan. Give it just a minute or so, then pour in the whole can of coconut milk, and chop and add the green onions. Stir everything together and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the chard and sweet potato are fully cooked. Adjust seasonings to taste -- I wound up adding more cinnamon (much more!), red pepper flakes, and salt. Serve over jasmine rice. Beware: disrupts the learning process.

*Usage note: if you see the word "curry" and you want to reach for the turmeric, resist! Man, I can't stand that stuff. It's like red wine; sometimes I think it's going to be nice but then I taste it and feel let down for weeks. Anyway, this doesn't need any.

Posted by dianna at 10:15 PM

January 27, 2008

Wait, was I always incurably weird?

In line at the grocery store:

Dianna: Oh, damn, you know, I brought my own bag but I left it out by my bike. Do you mind if I run and get it?
Checker: No, go ahead.
Dianna: Thanks. *runs out and comes back with a reusable grocery tote* Sorry I'm kind of spacey; I just got back from Berkeley.
Checker: ....
Dianna: Oh, I don't mean that like it sounds. I was just visiting my old co-op.
Checker: ...
Dianna: Okay, okay, it sounds kind of hippie. But I really just went to see my friend before she leaves the country. She's joining the Peace Cor-- oh.

I swear I once lived in the suburbs and drove everywhere and bought food in disposable bags like normal people. I swear it on the bosom of Mother Earth hersel-- oh.

Posted by dianna at 09:24 PM

January 25, 2008

Vegan FST*

*An FST is like an FAQ, but for Frequently Said Things that are not necessarily questions. Also, it doesn't feel obligated to be polite and helpful when the Things are patently stupid or mean, although some of them are perfectly reasonable and the FST strives to acknowledge that. Unfortunately it's written by me and I am a cranky bastard, so its loving reasonableness may get patchy in places. Read at your own risk.

  • "I could never do that." YOU ARE TOTALLY RIGHT. I have superpowers that you do not possess. I'm glad you recognize this. Actually, you'd be surprised; it's one of those things that gets pretty easy if you just have a reason to care about it.
  • "I tried eating vegan and couldn't make it work for my personal nutritional needs." Neat. I'm glad you tried it and I'm sorry it didn't work out for you. Eat what you need (but, you know, feel free to still eschew the animal products you don't actually need).
  • "I ate only carrots for three weeks and felt like crap, which is a totally appropriate experiment from which to conclude that dietary modifications are unwise." Okay. What the hell were you thinking?
  • "But no see I have proved veganism doesn't work." Truly, you have a dizzying intellect. Or maybe I'm just dizzy from six years on a starvation diet of big well-balanced dinners and lots of cookies. Do I really have to explain to you why your single experience doesn't establish a universal truth about this?
  • "Anyway, I could never give up (X)." Well, that does suck sometimes. I mean, an omelet would be pretty tasty right now. But people go without things they like all the time, for all kinds of health and financial and practical and ethical reasons. This isn't really any different.
  • "I could never give up caffeine/the microwave/wheat/garlic/frozen foods/salt/something else that isn't actually unvegan." It's disturbing to me to think that you may actually believe your microwave runs on tiny ground-up hamsters. Or that the caffeine in your coffee beans (keyword: beans) was squeezed out of some kind of animal. You must feel like you're living in a really gross universe.
  • "You can't be a healthy vegan without lots of artificial supplements!" What do you think those vitamins A & D are doing in your milk, anyway?
  • "Don't you need protein?" Hummus beans tofu nuts soymilk peanut butter seitan tempeh TVP. Totally. I'm a fiend for that shit.
  • "Cows need to be milked!" Okay. If you have a happy cow with a surplus of milk not being used by her calves, you go right ahead and milk. But it is ass-backward to use that to justify the factory dairy industry, and you know it. Or, if you don't know it, please do some research and discover it.
  • "I don't have the time/energy/expertise to cook for myself all the time." Amen to that. I don't either. Who the fuck does? This is why we have frozen tamales and soup-in-a-can. It's also why we live in Portland, where if we're tired and hungry we can just go have a corn dog and a slice of pie at Paradox.
  • "That's a really extreme lifestyle choice. Not the pie, I mean the veganism." Maybe. It depends on where you are and what culture or subculture you operate in, I think. There are places where putting cow milk on your breakfast grains would be considered deeply weird.
  • "We're biologically adapted to eat meat!" Well, yes. We're also adapted to sleep in caves and scavenge abandoned leopard kills. We are adapted for all kinds of things, but that doesn't actually mean they're all mandatory. Some we can, and do, choose to skip.
  • "I know, I know, going vegan would be healthier for me." Not necessarily -- if you live entirely off of junk food from Food Fight, you can have exactly as unbalanced and stupid a diet as anyone else in contemporary America. It's a privilege that I kind of cherish.
  • "I hear vegans never get sick!" I wouldn't bet on it. When they were handing out the super mega resistance to absolutely everything, my immune system was picking its nose in the corner and didn't get any, so I get every damn thing that goes around. YMMV.
  • "But I just love food too much." I totally hate it. That's why I eat three or four meals a day, talk about food constantly, think about it when I'm not talking about it, and own lots of cookbooks with glossy, sexy pictures of delicious foods. Man. Food is lame.
  • "It's too expensive/I'd probably save a lot of money." No it's not/yes it is/no you wouldn't/yeah you might. It depends way more on how expensive your local grocery is and how much you cook from scratch than on whether you're eating meat and dairy.
  • "I only eat vegetarian cows, ha ha, come on, it's funny." Hey, you're right, it is funny! Because actually beef cattle are getting fed all kinds of disgusting animal-based crap and they're not vegetarian at all! Wait, no, that's not funny, that's terrible.
  • "Small animals get caught in plant-harvesting machinery!" Ye-e-es. And people with standard American diets are harming those fuzzy animals too, plus a whole lot more. It's a harm-reduction issue; the effort can be imperfect and still be vastly preferable to the default.
  • "OMG fuzzy animals." Okay, I'm cheating. The imaginary speaker here is totally me. I bought my co-worker a calendar of sleeping puppies today because I just could not resist. OMG, they're fuzzy.
  • "Hey, wait, don't you buy meat cat food?" Yeah. My cat can't meaningfully consent to any health risks involved in me dickering around with her diet, and I'm not confident that I can make her a perfect vegan kitty diet or know how to adjust it if it's not adequate. I'm arguably weighing her life against the lives of other animals, which is unfair, but I've yet to find a better policy.
  • "Do vegans eat honey/sugar/X/Y/Z?" Yes maybe no? There are enough vegans in the world that they get pretty non-unanimous around the edges. I myself get kind of non-unanimous around the edges. Everybody's got a slightly different idea of the boundary between reasonable adherence and total insanity.
  • "Speaking of that boundary, I grow all my own foods and reuse everything and invest a shit-ton of time and labor in all kinds of anti-agribusiness, ecologically-sound awesomeness." I take my hat off to you. I don't suppose you have some happy backyard chickens and want to give me some delicious delicious eggs, do you?
  • "Er, no, sorry." Fuck.
  • "Hey, what about me? I only eat free-range beef. Take your hat off to me too." I did make my own bed with this harm-reduction argument, and so I have to at least give you a nod. But you might be kind of disappointed if you looked into the regulations about free-range livestock; they don't enforce anything close to healthy conditions or minimal suffering.
  • "Enough about that. I made you some vegan cookies. Do you want one?" YES I DO. NOMF NOMF NOMF.
Posted by dianna at 04:36 PM

January 24, 2008

Never be warm again.

The weather is always worse in my neighborhood than downtown. The fog is thicker, the frost harder, the rain heavier, the puddles icier. It's microclimates ad absurdum; four miles and one small river shouldn't do that. But they do.

Right now it's freezing everywhere and even downtown is numbingly cold. I thought the municipal drinking fountains had been turned off, but when I looked closer I saw them plugged with tiny icicles. I've been practicing my Fahrenheit-Celsius conversions by watching the time and temp sign on the bank at 5th and Yamhill. There's not that much variety in the questions lately, but for Fahrenheit 30 to 35 I've got the answers down pat.

Last night I shivered my way home from work and arrived in my frozen neighborhood feeling certain it was colder than it looked. It's hard to gauge when the streets aren't wet; Portland's usual rain has cleared away this week and left us with this clear, biting cold so dry that there isn't even any frost in the mornings. No puddles on the street to ice over. No wet leaves on the sidewalk to freeze up. No dampness in the lawns to turn silvery overnight. No mist to freeze, no rain to slush, no water of any kind anywhere. But as I crossed Killingsworth I finally saw a little glint of water in the Martian dryness, a swirly puddle in the gutter defying the cold. On principle, because it's Portland and feet should be wet, I went to step in it.


It was frozen solid. Not a layer of ice on top, no, but inches of solid ice all the way down to the ground. It was the same when I thought I saw a puddle in the lawn outside my office; I walked over to look at it and the ice cracked and crunched under my feet. I never thought that 600 miles would make the difference between the Bay Area's breezy, damp winters and this frozen numbness, but then, I had forgotten that that breezy damp was only another 600 miles from the sun and warm wind I grew up with.

I'm very sorry to all the people I know who live in, or are moving to, Seattle. But I can't ever go any further north than this. I need the air to not hurt me.

Posted by dianna at 10:07 AM

January 20, 2008


The last day that I can really remember, in a normal-brain-functions kind of way, is Tuesday. I haven't been on a single recreational intoxicant between then and now. This isn't fair.

I got knocked flat on Wednesday by what I insist on calling the plague. It may have been the flu; it may have been the head cold from hell; it may have been an exotic virus brought to this continent by achy, congested monkeys. I don't know and it probably doesn't matter. It dragged me home from work midday because I couldn't breathe or focus or stay awake, and I slept through the afternoon and the next day and half of Friday without getting out of bed for much of anything except the bathroom. Genius, Dianna. Way to make yourself, by the time Friday evening rolls around, not merely congested and achy and exhausted and feverish, but congested and achy and exhausted and feverish and dehydrated and dizzy and out of blood sugar. (I discovered this in the health and beauty aisle of Fred Meyer, where I was supposedly buying NyQuil but actually wobbling drunkenly with my mouth open and trying to figure out what I was doing there.) Which meant that between Friday night and this morning I again didn't get out of bed, this time because I couldn't without feeling like I was going to hit the floor.

When one's bedroom is on the second floor of a house with steep and treacherous stairs, and the kitchen and all sources of running water are on the first floor, and one needs to be eating and drinking in order to stop being dizzy and queasy, well, for a neat demonstration of the cognitive problem here, it didn't occur to me until just this moment that I could have brought more than one cup of water or one serving of food up to my room at a time. I can't even think how many unpleasant trips I could have saved myself.

Last night my (largely absent when needed as nurses) roommates came home to a small, wobbly-lettered note on the dining room table. "Dear roommates," it said, "I am too sick for the grocery store and I am running out of things that I need to survive." It went on to beg for orange juice and pasta and NyQuil, liquid, because the little soft gelcaps hurt too much to swallow. It didn't stop my renting roommate from coming home and throwing a serious hell of a drunken party downstairs (though, to be fair, neither did the serious hell of a party stop me from falling back into my foggy congested sleep), but it did prompt my owning roommate to run out this morning and get me some OJ. He was back in miraculous short order with two little bottles of Minute Maid, which had me scratching my head and wondering how he'd done it so quickly and why not one big bottle?

See, because we have a quickie mart on the next block up, whereas the actual supermarkets are a mile or more away. And quickie marts are open all the time and sell things that people need desperately at arbitrary times, like NyQuil and pasta and little bottles of orange juice. And when it was 30 degrees on Friday night and I was woozy and miserable, I could have gotten everything I needed and been home in the time it took me to wait for the train to the totally unnecessary actual market, if, if, I had remembered the damn quickie mart existed.

Clever virus. Knock out the victim's brain first, so it can't figure out how to get the tools to fight you. I see how this works.

Posted by dianna at 05:55 PM

January 13, 2008

Swing and a miss.

I'm about ready to jump on this Cementhorizon no-pants bandwagon. Really. When it comes to pants, I can't win for losing. I'd just gotten used to the idea that they cost too much and never fit, and now I have discovered that they are actually offensive.

I spent two hours yesterday in my local department store trying to find a single pair of jeans that didn't advertise itself as "slimming". It was shockingly difficult; the entire Misses' section was breathing and bleeding anxiety. Perfectly slimming! Slims you instantly! New slimming fit! I quickly decided that it was really important to avoid donating my $30 to the Women's Advertising-Induced Fear Of Fat fund. But what with avoiding Misses for this reason and avoiding Juniors for its hypersexualized hypertrophic femininity, and with due consideration for the dizzying array of numerical sizes that I have worn since puberty, it took me two hours to find one pair of acceptable pants. They are straight-leg Levi's. They do not slim. If anything they make me resemble one of those curvy 80s-retro punk girls with the tight tapered pants and the denim jackets and ripped-up sneakers and oh my goodness. If anyone who didn't get me a Christmas present feels bad about it, they can always give me an 80s-retro punk girl if they have one available.

It occurred to me this morning that, being all pleased with my new pants, I could skip the trying-on process next time and just get more of the same style. I started perusing the Levi's website to see if I could just order them there, and what did I discover? Ah, there's the kind I have. 505. Straight leg. "Cut to minimize curves."

I like to believe that we're all being fooled, that the whole apparel industry is mocked up as a test to see if we notice when shit goes totally unreasonable on us. I call foul! I want that Matrix pill! I believe there is an alternate universe in which you don't have to buy clothes that actually insult you! Now please let me in, because otherwise I'm just going to stop wearing pants entirely and that's unlikely to go over well at work.

Posted by dianna at 11:11 AM

January 08, 2008

No it's not. Yes she is! Fuck you!

If Dianna is actually listening to Converge, which she is, you know she had a fucking impossible day, which she did. Unfortunately I don't see any way to avoid having my first day of class coincide with everyone else's first day of class, but on the bright side, there won't be another first day of class until March. The rest of this week won't be so bad, assuming of course that we have three solid snow days in a row.

To celebrate today's off-the-charts stress and frustration, I have decided to shamelessly take it out on the first person I found saying something offensive on the internet tonight. It's unfair, but on the other hand, there's such an amazing variety and number of people who could hold this distinction on any given day that it's unlikely to unfairly strike anyone twice.

So, without further apology: hey let's scapegoat veganism for women's eating disorders! We all know those pesky vegans don't get enough hostile bullshit already, and none of them actually are feminists, so obviously if someone who is already conflating "skinny" and "virtuous" in the best traditions of the American mainstream media happens to add "vegan" in there, that person is obviously speaking for vegans in general and now there is a deep, irreconcilable tension between veganism and feminism! Vegans only eat that way to get skinny and lord their socially-sanctioned slenderness over everyone else; it's not about morality or health or environmental concerns or personal responsibility, but only if they are women. If they're dudes we don't feel the need to freak out and diagnose them with eating disorders even though, you know, dudes can have eating disorders too. And being feminists we really could be expected to be aware of that.

I'm pretty fucking angry about this. Fortunately, I'm not the only one and there is a glorious carnival of angry, healthy, body-loving, legitimate-lifestyle-choice-making vegan women raising hell in the comment thread. It's fun to read and makes me feel delightfully redundant -- I can go and do my anthro reading instead of posting because everyone else has said what I wanted to see said.

Well, except for this part. From a response-to-a-response by the original poster, on why veganism is an extreme diet: "It is extreme because when someone brings cake into the office you can't eat it..." How about a word from your admin staff? In the last three months I have seen Halloween candy, Christmas candy, homemade caramels, donuts, and I forget what else made available for consumption in my office. Most of it isn't vegan; I'll thank the people who bring it in but politely tell them I can't eat it. Do you know what the vast majority of the non-vegan women in the department do? They sulk, they dramatically avert their eyes, they announce irritably that they're on a diet and people shouldn't have brought that in, they scowl at the food, they scowl at me for happening to sit near it, they humph that they'll have one tiny piece but they hope I know it'll go right to their hips, and they ask me in exasperation if that candy is gone yet. The two or three women in the office who don't do this are so wildly outnumbered that I'm actually startled when they calmly, sanely take or decline a treat.

Whose food choices are extreme here?

Posted by dianna at 10:43 PM

January 07, 2008

Pray god I am not too soon!

That's a Dirk Gently line, but I'm considering using it at work to defuse any impending suggestion that I am late with anything. Since it is the first day of the quarter and absolutely everything is late, wrong, unclear, pending, miscommunicated, or missing entirely, any pithy line that will generate enough momentary cognitive dissonance to allow me to escape and quietly take care of the problem is an invaluable asset.

Not a moment too soon, in fact, I have acquired a new ridiculous thing. It is a tiny journal, less than 3 inches to a side, covered in gorgeous brown sari fabric with a neat button closure and beautiful rough texturey paper inside. When I saw it on Friday night at Powell's I bought first and asked questions later -- questions being, in this case, "What am I going to do with this unreasonably small journal?" Since it is tiny and fussy I have decided to use it to record tiny fussy things that make me happy. For instance: keeping my chocolate chips in a tiny mason jar in the cupboard and re-opening and closing the little two-part jar lid every time I want to take out a single chocolate chip and eat it. Or: finding the exact purple pen that can write small enough to look nice on a tiny journal page. Or: making a batch of almond cupcakes and immediately eating all the asymmetrical ones, so that the plate of remaining cupcakes looks perfect.

The journal is a great comfort to me in a way that makes me worry that I'm less well than I think I am. The kind of person who relieves stress by poring over a tiny, neatly written book of totally OCD things is probably an adult version of the kid who's always rocking in the corner of the classroom and refusing to come join the story circle. Also, the cupcake thing resulted in me eating five cupcakes last night and spending today with a raging, sugar-induced headache. Scientific discovery says: this does not make the start of the term any more manageable, but it does make it light, fluffy, and perfectly nutty.

Just like me!

Posted by dianna at 05:14 PM

January 04, 2008


My benefits as an employee of the State of Oregon include, should I have a need, 3 free and confidential counseling sessions with the Oregon Potato Commission. Or 5 sessions with the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. No one is more shocked than I to discover that I am not making this up.

I am learning (even without the counsel of the Potato Commission) something very important about me and jobs: I really don't like being in a position to fuck other people's shit up. I don't want to be hiring anyone. I don't want to be responsible for anyone's pay. I don't want the ability to do anything that will cost anyone anything. I don't want anything to do with anything that will ever affect anyone's career or future. I don't want any risk of having to say to someone, hey, I just fucked up your last paycheck of the year and now your tax return is going to be a nightmare, uh, sorry.

Not that I've ever done that, of course. Nor did I ever do anything like the time I had a stack of mysterious books sitting on my desk at the library and in the time it took me to get around to them somebody got erroneously charged $800 in replacement fees for all of them. Er, I mean they didn't get charged, because I never did that.

It is really, critically, overwhelmingly important for the good of everyone ever that I get myself out of the administrative sector as soon as possible and into a nice, irrelevant academic field where there's no money moving around anyway. I should probably reconsider my plan to work in cultural resource management and head straight for academic archaeology, where some not-very-esteemed university can begrudge me a dingy little office and occasional donations for tent-and-dental-pick expenses from well-meaning and out-of-touch philanthropists who require nothing in return except to see themselves thanked in my articles in The Quarterly Journal of 5th-Century Uzbekistanian Archaeology.

Sidenote: in my stress this morning over the abovementioned paycheck issue and the employee's less-than-thrilled reaction to it, I gave myself a nasty hangnail which, combined with my somewhat violent typing style, caused me to splatter blood all over my keyboard in the middle of that last paragraph. Having my computer peripherals suddenly resemble props in a horror movie is not really helping with either my stress or my guilt.

I'd be thanking fuck that it's Friday if not for the fact that this shit will still be waiting for me on Monday. You know, one of the other nice things about archaeology is that once you dig something up, if you messed it up, well, it's gone now and nobody can make you go back and fix it. Schliemann, I suddenly sympathize.

Posted by dianna at 10:00 AM