Monday, August 4, 2008

A taste testing, vegetarian style

You may recall from my post about my mother's memorial weekend, that Glen and I forgot to bring the veggie burgers to Maryland for the two vegetarians who would be in attendance. You may recall that my father does not "believe" in vegetarianism and therefore refused to stock his fridge or freezer with any non-meat anything; and Glen, while sympathetic to vegetarians, temporarily lost his mind and proclaimed the vegetarians could eat grass.

The result: we have a large case of Boca Burgers in our freezer.

I am still pregnant, and due any day, and am caught in an in-between state of wanting to nest and cook and stock our freezer with things we actually like, and just wanting to sit in the air conditioning, and hope, this time, we actually come home with a baby. I had a non-stress test at noon (everything looks fine), and I got home, rather hungry. I thought about those veggie burgers in the freezer, and I thought if I had one or two every day until the kid is born, it would open up a large amount of space in the freezer for something good, like a big casserole, prepared by one of my sisters (hint! hint!). I decided that if I was going to eat a veggie burger, I might as well eat two, since I was hungry, and I am eating for two. Right? Plus, the way I figure, there ain't no point in doing anything unless I'm gonna throw myself into the experience.

A few years ago, I worked for a large food distribution company, and we received a lot of samples; a lot of it was organic, all-natural, and/or vegetarian, and/or vegan. Most of it was high quality and tasty, but I'm not a terribly fussy eater, either; as long as mayonnaise isn't involved, I will never complain. I'm pretty good at doing what I need to do to get through a social situation without angering the cook or the food bearer, who might spit in my food. Anyway, at the time, I recall Boca made a huge variety of products, and after a taste-testing at work, I wound up taking home a small package of Garden Burgers, which I actually sought out in the grocery store, after I ate all of mine at home. The "Burger" part of their name was misleading: it was definitely a patty, though, made with a variety of veggies — real, bona fide vegetables — and then rolled through some sort of crumb coating, and they were quite righteous. They reminded me more of fried zucchini, though, than a burger.

So this is what I had in mind when I trekked to the basement fridge for my two Boca Burgers today. But when I saw the package, it didn't look like the Garden Burgers of yesteryear. Same brand, but different product. I looked at the ingredients and saw that the first ingredient was something soy-based, and my heart sank. Still, I committed to the idea of having two of them for lunch, so I grabbed two — individually wrapped, I might add; not very environmentally cool — and brought them back upstairs.

As a result of all this prenatal monitoring, it was discovered recently that I am slightly anemic; not anything too extreme, but my iron was low enough that it was recommended that I eat more red meat. While I'm not a vegetarian, I just don't eat a lot of it. So I've been trying to eat more mammal, and when I'm not — like today — we have been using our cast iron pans, since they help to boost a person's iron, too. So I took out the cast iron pan, preheated it, oiled it up, and put down my two Boca patties.

After a few minutes, there was no shrinkage at all. Shrinkage, as a general rule, is something to be avoided. But in a burger? I don't like a lack of shrinkage in a burger. I want to know there are fats and juices running out, helping to brown up my patty, dammit. And without the shrinkage, the Boca burgers flipped very poorly, which takes points away from the Boca Burger, first of all because I don't want to have to scrub my pan so damn hard to remove freakin' tofu residue, for crying out loud; and also because I wondered if the crap stuck to the pan contained all of that helpful iron my body needs right now.

Still, I have an open mind (or low standards, depending on how you look at things), and forged on. I knew that I'd need to accessorize what would become my double soy-burger, and was dismayed to only find one pickle left: I do need a pickle if I'm going to have a burger — any kind of burger — but my need for one today was powerful. While I'm glad I had one, TWO would have been better: one, sliced thin, for the burger, and one for later, to cleanse the palette (or at least change the composition of the palette). Not much will cleanse/alter the palette like a good hearty pickle. I grabbed small tomato and a handful of chips to accompany my burger, since I didn't have the extra pickle. I should also note, I added some plain ol' American process cheese food slices to these burgers, and served the whole thing on plain ol' white bread, because we're out of buns. I toasted the bread for a minute, though, so things wouldn't get too soggy.

Steve the dog, and Angus the cat joined me for lunch, as they often do. Angus is a tough Trenton cat who came with the house, and prior to us falling sucker to his charms, he was perfectly content begging at the backyard parties in our neighborhood (particularly when real barbecue was involved), and eating the knuckleheads' leftover/discarded pizza, sandwiches, fried chicken, cheese doodles, and Chinese food, all of which is strewn without a care, all over Trenton. These days, he'll usually appear in the kitchen at mealtime out of habit, but unless we're eating one of the aforementioned foods, he usually winds up on the floor, on his back, looking up at the ceiling, or wall, like Rainman. Steve, on the other hand, is a dog, and is interested in — at least right now — everything we eat. So he took a spot next to my legs as I sat down at the table with my double soy cheeseburger.

I took a bite and it tasted more like fake, manufactured burger than anything from the Kingdom Plantae. I added some ketchup. And more pickle slices. It didn't TOTALLY offend, though, but I credit the cheese and pickles for playing a major role in the lack of suckage.

I forged on; Angus had stepped away and settled on the rug and was staring up at the plates on the shelves. Steve was still very intent on what I was eating. I don't want to raise a naughty beggar, but am fully aware of the long and wonderful history we humans share with dogs, and much of it came to fruition because of food: food was what brought us together in the first place. So, I won't try too hard to change a dog's nature in this regard (because, in my opinion, there's no point in having a dog who is not allowed to be a dog), but I normally wouldn't totally foster a beggar's behavior, either.

But I chewed on my soy thing and couldn't help but wonder what my dog's take would be. Dogs, after all, really dig meat. I ripped a bit off, and handed it to Steve; he took it politely, and ate it. Very slowly. But he ate it. We have given him real meat on occasion (he had some steak last week), and while he is a very polite dog, there was nothing slow about the way he ate the real meat. He, like every other dog (and many cats) I've met, is very excited about meat.

When he finished his soy morsel, he stayed put, but he had a confused look on his little furry head. And I continued to eat, but more out of a need to fill that empty void in my gut, and to make sure the kid got some nutrients. There are nutrients in soy burgers, right? After awhile, the tomato and potato chips beckoned, so I abandoned the last few bites of the burger. I couldn't finish it. My thoughts again turned to Steve, who was sitting there, perplexed and expectant. Lacey, my wonderful dog of 15 years, often enjoyed the bread nearly as much as the meat, and so, I wondered what Steve would think of the bread. I cut up some of my remaining food into small, Steve-sized chunks, wondering if he would go for the bread first — some of which had cheese and ketchup attached to it — or would he head for the fake meat?

So, here's how it played out with Steve: ever-hopeful, he went immediately to the fake meat, but again ate the morsel slowly. He moved to the bread, which he ate more quickly, AND he finished all the bread I put down for him. There were a few bites of soy burger left, and he went to them last, and again, slowly. In conclusion, I think Steve and I probably feel similarly about the soy burger: it doesn't outright suck. But there are so many better things to eat.

If you want to try a non-meat burger, I would recommend the GARDEN burgers, rather than the soy variety. Portabello mushrooms, with a bit of horseradish, on a roll, also are a wonderful substitute/change of pace from a meat burger. But if you're a vegetarian who is vegetable- and/or mushroom-intolerant (and there are a lot of you, aren't there?), I have the better part of case of Boca Burgers in the freezer if you want 'em. Just send me a message, and they're yours.

Hopefully, one of my sisters is on that lasagna or something else yummy to fill that space soon!


A quick epilogue: I forgot to eat an apple last night after dinner, and for the first time in awhile, I woke up, burping fire, and wanting to cry last night. I sure as hell wasn't going to forget the apple after today's weird meal, just in case the soy tries to repeat on me...


Anonymous said...

Try the veggie burgers from Cartlidge's (don't you love that name?) in the Farmer's Market. They are made of actual vegetables,yet light and fluffy somehow. Even carnivore's love 'em!

Mr. CleƤn said...

I see that Anon beat me to the punch!

I find vegetarianism a pointless existence, and don't get me started on its practitioners, but...

I was once at Cartlidge's, in no way, shape or form searching for a meat substitute when I found these. I was actually shopping for maximum-cruelty meats (veal, seal, etc.), when I saw them on behind the counter. They looked good, so I ordered a couple.

Simply put, they are To Die For. But do me a favor and don't eat them just because they're "not meat." Eat them because they're absolutely freakin' yummy!

I'm hungry.