Discovering VB6 and It’s Polar Opposite in the Same Month is … Cruel

by Marina Chotzinoff

So I am reaching the end of week two of VB6, or Vegan Before 6 pm for all you newcomers. Aside from a couple crazy hiccups ranging from an oven thermometer bursting into flames and smoking out huge platters of roasting kabocha and cauliflower to a flat tire at Whole Foods to some plain and simple vegan ennui, I’ve enjoyed the journey so far. As hoped, my creative brain churning has kicked up a notch and I’ve been able to imagine and assemble all sorts of meals of healthy persuasion. My life, in general, feels more mindful and I’ve gone to a couple intense yoga classes and a few long (for me) hot and sweaty and complaint-inducing bike rides. I think about the things I put in the shopping cart and on the table. And those are the first and main reasons I started this diet.

Meanwhile, and for no reason other than the library emailing me to tell me one of my many holds was ready, I have also been reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. It was not at all my intention to start VB6 and become a vegan for life. I was merely looking for a plan someone else had done the work on to get me to a healthier place as I approach, sigh, 40. But I love love love Foer’s books and as scared as I have been to read his book that forces you to consider and make choices about your own philosophy and morality surrounding, well, Eating Animals, I was more curious than scared and dug in.

Now this is not going to be a post about that book as I am still early into it and still not quite facing what it is asking me to do. In all honesty, I don’t WANT to NOT WANT to eat bacon. Or pork. Or grilled chicken thighs. Or tiny lacquered quail. Nope. I want to continue to enjoy those things even if it means in moderation. After 6 p.m. for example. Or sometimes weekends or whenever the urge is so crazy strong I can’t help it. And I appreciate the intro to the book which recognizes the importance of the way food is woven into the stories and fabric of our lives and families and histories. And so I am giving it a go and I am trying to be a thinking eater and buyer and cooker of food. But I also am feeling very protective of the part of me that appreciates and loves and respects the meat we eat. We will see…this was not intended to be a abrupt change of self.

So on to the torturous and the fascinating and the drool worthy (for those of us that DO still enjoy the Meat)…

I do have VB6 to thank for getting back into my recently previous exercise habits of bike rides and yoga and the elliptical. So it is ironic that the first show I find browsing Netflix’s Recommendations for Marina is The Mind of a Chef, a food-porn-if-there-ever-was-one show about Momofuku’s David Chang on PBS (from executive producer and narrator Anthony Bourdain). Since we have not had TV in a couple years I was not privy to this show and knew instantly that I would enjoy it. But then I began watching episode one: Noodles, and was smitten. And drooling. And hungry on the elliptical.

Growing up with a dad who watched (and drooled through) Tampopo only to head to the kitchen well past midnight to try in vain to make a bowl of worthy noodles, I have long been surrounded by ramen reverence. Even in a then lowly-food-scene Denver we had a place in a strip mall where you could watch a guy stretch and whap noodles by hand. And having helped a skilled Chinese chef (albeit poor businessman) move here from NYC, my parents were both well versed in Asian condiments, recipes and methods. So it is with great pleasure that I have watched the creep and spread and evolution of the great culinary pleasures of my growing up being embraced from all angles. Our caterers for our wedding in 2002 didn’t even know what sriracha was for lordsake.

So back to the show.

Just perusing the titles for each episode I knew I was in for a treat…Noodles, Pig, Spain to name a few. I had seen the No Reservations with David Chang not long after having been there myself. I was lucky enough to go with an adventurous eater who helped work through the brussels sprouts (a gift to restaurants across the nation that we all are benefitting from) and much of the offal menu (sweetbreads that melted my soul) to the famous and fabulous belly buns. Needless to say, it made an impression and I am forever grateful that that friend of a friend’s boyfriend decided we’d all eat there. And then I saw that episode on tv and felt I belonged to an inner circle club of those-who-had-eaten-there. And I knew some of this magic would come through in the show because that is how I imagined “Tony” would do it. Porn shots of stellar food, passion, food geekery and (possibly because of the whole Lucky Peach connection ?) Harold McGee food science magic woven together with quirky editing and graphics. And so it was.

Working at home, I am able to eat at my desk while I work and take my lunch break on the elliptical where I have watched Mad Men, Breaking Bad (until I couldn’t take it anymore), various documentaries about furniture design and urban planning, Ted talks, the latest Arrested Development (oh how I love that show) and now, The Mind of a Chef. It is clear to me now that 45 minute dramas are the best for this activity and that food-related shows, while they keep my interest, border on torture. Especially when I have been eating vegan all day and am now watching porky brothy noodles, belly buns and, yes, a whole episode just about PIG. But I have learned with VB6 to tuck things to the side and that is what I did for the last few episodes.

I do not have the time or the means to make half of what they make in their restaurants or the restaurants in Japan they taunt us with. Especially the pork katsuoboshi that required the help of some Harvard PhD microbiologists to perfect. Whaaaaaat?!?!?! But I do have a brain that won’t stop once inspired and I now have only one meal a day in which I can daydream up these fancies. So I did my best to just absorb what I was seeing as one might appreciate fine art in a museum. And I worked hard to turn my leftover vegetables into something worthy of a post 6 p.m. meal for the family.

And what I came up with was this:

It is a bit of riff off my Black Bean Orange Peel Edamame that won the Food52 best Soy contest. I made a slurry of orange juice and peel, black bean garlic, ginger, mirin, soy and chili sauce which I added to some quickly charred pre-cooked green beans. I had marinated some ground pork with just a touch of soy, garlic and sherry and browned it. Learning from my lessons last week where I could not eat the meated leftovers for lunch, I chose to mix just a bit of pork and beans which I served over fried tofu with rice and some blanched sugar snaps. It was a hit with the kid and it did me proud- using up huge piles of green veggies with just a bit of flavorful meat.

As for the noodle needs? I aim to hit Uncle or Bones with the whole family this weekend and take care of that craving before it gets me in trouble.

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