Monday, August 24, 2009

Back to Basics

Well I have been teetering on the edge of vegetarianism for about a year or so now and, with the exception of fish, I have pretty much cut out all other animals from my diet. Trust me, there are still times when some remnants will surreptitiously make their way into my risotto. My father is known for doing this, as if desperately trying to find ways of feeding his malnourished child from some fictitious third-world country. Have you ever heard of Naboombu? I certainly have not. Well yes, actually, I have. But it’s from a semi-animated children’s movie. Any takers? Anyone? Bueller?

One of the main things I must point out here is that I am not a vegetarian (or pescatarian, for that matter) for ‘typical’ ethical reasons. Yes, I know, the poor animals and all. Listen here, I’m not cold-hearted! I am human, and a very emotional one at that. Yet I had never been a big meat eater to begin with, which is quite the feat when your father is an Argentinean chef. I began with the intention of creating a healthier diet for myself because, truth be told, I simply don’t believe that humans were ever meant to eat animals in the first place. But that is another story for another day.

I certainly do not go around promoting my beliefs or scoff loudly when friends of mine order their double bacon, meaty mcmeat burgers. My choice is my choice and yours is yours and I respect that. And I’m sure there are many out there who will emphatically state, chest puffed out like a proud cockatoo, that being a vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean eating healthy. And guess what? I wholeheartedly agree. I know all too well that you certainly eat crappy, crappy, crappy even sans animal products — my first bout with being veggie went exactly that-a-way.

Ask anybody who knew me as a child, teenager and young adult: If it was green, I would not touch it. I had a fleeting love affair with iceberg lettuce (which we all know is really a giant science experiment to get water to be solid without the freezing process), and did carrots here and there (but good heavens!Those are ORANGE!). Flash forward x-number of years and here I am! And I’ve come a long way, baby!

So, as to make sure that I did not make the same mistake again, I decided to pay more attention to exactly what I was eating this time around. And in doing so, very quickly realized that I too often stuck to one type of food for weeks at a time. Now, I have always been akin to this little quirk for pretty much my entire life: one week it will be yellow bell peppers, and two weeks later it’s hummus. Not exactly balanced.

Weeks go by, then months, and my initially refreshed and energized system is now dragging. I’m exhausted. My nails are brittle. I’m losing hair. I. Don’t. GET IT! Well, in looking back, I now surmise that I knew the answer all along and it only took some sleuth investigation for things to be come clear. The food that I had been eating was indeed healthy, but I didn’t have the balance my body needed to thrive. And because of this, I was starving my body of some very real vital nutrients. I had been so concerned about finding those foods that provided protein that I forgot about iron. And calcium. And, well, the very detailed list goes on. And herein lies the challenge of many a vegetarian.

I’ve been on a quest during these recent months to start enjoying a diverse selection of Mother Nature's earthly wonders, from one end of the color scale to the other. I get so excited over discovering new, exotic produce that I’ve never laid eyes on before (Buddha’s Hand? Still not sure exactly what to do with it). I love my baby spinach, but I’m also aware of the levels of oxalic acid that could hinder the body’s calcium absorption. And ohhhh lentils and quinoa. Near and perfect proteins and yet, somehow, so delicious.

Mother Nature has provided us with an incredible array of amazing food. The problem is that, these days, the timeline between ground and plate has become too long. There is too much intervention, too much adding and too much subtracting. What once was a perfect specimen of nutrition is now a chemically-altered counterpart. We have fed our bodies simulated copies of the real things and our bodies have adapted to the non-food. I'm pretty sure I could go on for miles here, but the simple fact still remains that we need to get back to basics, back to what Mother Nature intended us to eat. We need to be human again.

A Weekend in Newport

With a love affair of the New England coastline, my girlfriends and I decided to get together for a weekend in Newport, Rhode Island. We make it a point to get together at least once a summer, since busy schedules and altogether hectic lives tend to keep us separated between Boston and New York. A couple weeks of synchronizing schedules told us that, among the three of us, we only had a weekend to spare. So no flights. No cruises. Someplace simple and grand at the same time.

My girlfriend Sam and I drove up together from New York, meeting our other friend Christina waiting at the hotel. It was a typically humid and partly cloudy late-August Saturday. We had originally planned for sailing lessons, but it seemed that Hurricane Bill had made up his mind and that was subsequently nixed from the agenda. With a quick stroll around Newport’s downtown shopping area, we grabbed some refreshing frozen lemonade at Del’s and some sinfully delicious fudge at Country Kettle (my favorite was the Vanilla Nut), and decided to hop back in the car and go explore.

Newport is very much known for its historic mansions, equipped with sprawling grounds and a delicately preserved sense of American royalty. The drive took us down roads of stone walls and ivy, and we found ourselves sitting in silence as we slowly passed one after the other. The cars, bikers and pedestrians alike all seemed to cower under the shade of the immense elm trees that stood like soldiers guarding their compounds.

Nearing the end of Narragansett Avenue, we decided to park and go investigate another of Newport’s alluring features, the Cliff Walk. We began at The Forty Steps, a breathtaking stone stairway offering a steep descent to the rocky cliffs and crashing waves below. There is a turn at the bottom landing, offering you the opportunity to marvel up close at Poseidon’s (i.e., Bill’s) display of vigor and play — carefully — on the rocky plateaus below.

Emerging from the stone chasm we continued northbound on the path, stopping every once in a while to admire the view and the every so often the enthusiastic surfers braving the crushing swells below. At the farthest point north, the Cliff Walk disperses out onto Memorial Boulevard and we three, sweating and grinning, decided to head to the beach.

Easton’s Beach is typical of New England, rocky and defined, and although the clouds had begun to swallow the sky we were eager to get our feet wet at the very least.

Thoroughly wind-blown and salty, we made our way back to the car and, in an effort to avoid cross-town traffic, decided to take the scenic route along the entire southern coast of Newport. The whole mood of the day felt leisurely, so why rush it now? We had many coves to peer into, many grand houses to discover along that drive.

At the southernmost point of the drive, we turned a corner and the sky seemed to open up in all its glory. Breton Point on its own must be majestic, especially on a clear sunny day. Needless to say, however, we had stumbled upon it at exactly the right moment. A sunset desperately trying to break through a stormy atmosphere. Hues of oranges and blues. Magnificent waves crashing in threefold. In the distance, a lonely sailboat was cutting through the fog. Awe.

We parked and I ran towards the surreal image, towards the onlookers and professional photographers. I took pictures along the way of the black rock patios nestled in the waves that didn’t stand a chance of being remembered by tourists on that day. I was so close to that strange utopia — and then my camera battery failed me.

This was the closest I came to capturing that scene — you can just make out that sailboat. The only thing that consoles me is knowing that a picture would never have done that awesome sight justice.

Later that evening, freshly showered down, blown out and made up, we hit the town for some fresh seafood and Newport Storm Summer Ale. Back into town, traversing the narrow streets of downtown once more, we came upon a happy little — at the risk of sounding like Bob Ross — gelateria and I blissfully concluded my night with a splendid scoop of Cold Fusion’s Maple Walnut.

The next morning, the sun was out and to the beach we were headed. After a brief stop for essential caffeinated beverages and an unintended minor detour, we arrived back at Easton’s Beach. Parking fee paid, we happily made our way towards the sand only to discover that no one was actually allowed on the beach (at the moment) thanks to Billy Boy’s charming combination of killer waves and thigh-high tide. Lifeguard chair #8 had flirted with danger and lost.

Before we knew it almost an hour had passed and we finally were allowed access to the beach. We sunned ourselves for another hour and a half before it was decided that our little beach getaway was truly coming to a close. If it weren’t for foreboding thoughts of traffic-laden Sunday drives on i-95, I would have stayed to see another sunset.

Newport, I miss you already.

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