Joey Sweeney’s #PhillyVegPledge Diary Pt. II: Búns, Hon!

All this week, our publisher Joey Sweeney takes part in the #PhillyVegPledge and shares his experiences, observations and recipes.

beefanonMON

PART II: MONDAY

I began (and ended) my first day as a vegetarian with a softness befitting my new lifestyle choice: Lying in bed, enveloped in the amazing sound of spring rain. In between rising and retiring, luck seemed to have it that my first day as a veg (is that a thing? do people call themselves that? “veg?” probably not.) would be groovy times indeed: The date on the calendar was April 20th, or, as it is more commonly known, 4/20.

But first, I rolled over and fell back asleep until 1pm. That’s how good that rain sounded.

By that time, the morning rain had passed, the sun was shining, and I got into the spirit of things by powering the home office with a 1990 live recording of the Grateful Dead that was somehow still going strong in the middle of a drum solo when I turned it off later that day. As I pounded away at the keyboard, making various things go away, it struck me that here I was, a full 13+ hours into my first day as a vegetarian, and I hadn’t eaten a single thing. Nor had my fiancé, also working at home, downstairs. Negotiations began via Facebook messenger, upstairs-downstairs, because I am a gentle vegetarian now; only savages negotiate their meals and complain of their hunger pains by shouting across the house.

In the end, everybody won — we were having bún.


My first exposure to Vietnamese food was in 1990 when my friend Andrew Chalfen took me to Benny Lai’s Vietnam Restaurant on 11th Street north of Race in Chinatown. And honestly, I don’t think a month has passed since then when I don’t pop in, usually for any number of the bún (aka rice vermicelli) dishes on offer there. Nearly all of them are topped with one form of animal flesh or another, but underneath, they are all the same: The dish’s universal engine is simply the cold rice vermicelli, fresh cucumber, carrot, green onion, chili paste, and a dipping sauce (nuoc cham). If you want to get fancy, you can add crushed peanuts and bean sprouts and a protein on top, but once you’ve got the basics, you’ve already got a great dish.

For years, I’d been tinkering around with bún at home, but two things eluded me: How to get the noodles right, and how to get the sauce right. For the bún noodles, it finally dawned on me one day that they’re so slight that you don’t cook them (like you would spaghetti) so much as push them around in standing hot water for a few minutes, then drain and rinse. Viewed in that light, this dish today doesn’t actually require cooking at all.

That sauce, though: That sauce had me guessing for years. But then I met @bizscanlon, and here, I hand the mic over to her for her real, honest-to-goodness recipe.

Bún sauce AKA Nuoc cham

As I am an inveterate approximator in the kitchen, I am either a good, forgiving source of instruction or a very bad one depending upon your desire for exactitude. This one’s pretty simple, though:

* Combine equal parts lime juice and fish sauce (so, for the juice of one lime, about 2 Tbsp of fish sauce)

* Add about 2 tsp of mirin (seasoned rice wine) or rice wine vinegar (if you like sweet more, the former; if you like vinegar more, the latter)

* Add a few shakes of crushed red pepper.

That’s it. I also like to use chili oil, but that is best added individually as the stuff is potent.

From there, it’s as simple as putting it all in a bowl, and eating it, and if you’re me, gradually ramping up the Sriracha until your face is a gently perspiring slab of tingly beef. On the side, we had a little edamame, which is Japanese not Vietnamese, but I tried to make up for it by having a Vietnamese style iced coffee (strong as hell, milky, and loaded with sugar). I went back upstairs and that damned Dead bootleg was still on.

When I took this #PhillyVegPledge, I swore to myself that, in addition to abstaining from Not Dogs, veggie burgers, pizza and mac’n'cheese, I would also not deprive myself of my love for grilling. I have a plain old Weber that I swear by. The things last for years. And those gas grills just kinda bum me out. The so-called convenience of them is, in my view, canceled out by the better flavor and fairly swift prep time provided by a charcoal chimney. I love my grill, and this being the season, I am determined to use it, meat or no meat.

After rummaging around the fridge, spotting some fresh pappardelle and a couple of leeks, I had an idea. This being my first dinner of the pledge, I wanted to go big. I wanted dinner to be rich. I wanted it to be… not meek, like I was giving up something. I wanted to eat something that was going to make me lay on the couch and moan after I ate it.

And I am happy to report that I was met with success. Here, then, is something I’m calling:

JOJO’S DOUBLE FANTASY


#PhillyVegPledge dinner night #1: Pappardelle with grilled leeks & portabello, butter and garlic, ayyy, MANGIA!

A photo posted by Joey Sweeney (@jojosweeney) on

Leeks are the Lauren Bacall of onions. They’re tall, smoky, sexy, and they make any picture better just by virtue of their presence. This dish matches that lovely leek with my favorite pasta of the moment, the belt-wide pappardelle. For this recipe, you will need:

2 large leeks, cleaned
3 portabello mushrooms
1 lb. fresh pappardelle
olive oil
4 cloves garlic
balsamic vinegar
more butter than you are comfortable with
salt, pepper, and grated romano cheese

Start by firing up the grill: You’ve got a whole grill going for just a few things, so you might as well think ahead. (In my case, I threw some red peppers on there to make grill-roasted peppers for something else down the line.) As the coals are getting hot, quick dip the portobellos in some oil and vinegar; you don’t have to marinade them as such, just a few minutes will do.

When the grill is ready, throw on the portabellos and the leeks, which you will have wiped with olive oil. They’ll only need a few minutes on each side, and you don’t need to cook them through, because in a minute, you’ll be sautéing them in butter and garlic. (In fact, if you’re feeling lazy, you can skip the grill altogether; you’ll sacrifice some flavor, but I am not the boss of you.) Once they’re ready, let them cool while you get the water boiling for the pasta and the sauté pan going at a low heat with olive oil, garlic, and one third of a stick of butter. (There will be more butter still.)

Quickly now, thinly slice both the mushrooms and the leeks and get them into that pan, folding them over, salting and peppering to taste, adding a little more butter if you think it’s necessary, or fun, or good, or loving, to do so. Once the water is boiling, drop the pasta in for 4 minutes (if indeed it’s fresh pasta). Meanwhile, keep an eye on the veggies.

When the pasta is ready, strain it, and throw it back in the pot, tonging it around with — yes! don’t lie! YOU LOVE IT! — another one-third stick of butter. Plate it, top it with the veg, then sprinkle with that romano cheese, and see you tomorrow!

Speaking of tomorrow, I’ll be doing some reflecting on the nature of what it means when one animal eats all these other animals and that there’s even a whole society and industry built around animals eating other animals. Also, Israeli food!

– Joey Sweeney

Join us for the rest of the week here at Phoodie.info, where each day, our fearless narrator will relay his week of eating like a responsible human being.

Introducing “Beefeaters Anonymous,” Joey Sweeney’s Weeklong #PhillyVegPledge Weblog

Hello, old friend! Welcome back to Phoodie! We’ve been dormant for a minute, but join us this week as our publisher Joey Sweeney takes part in the #PhillyVegPledge and shares his experiences, observations and recipes.

beefanonsun

Part I: Sunday

My grandfather drove a truck for Diamond Beef Co., and as such, indoctrinated us all into his own particularities regarding the consumption of meat. Later in life, he also owned a Fishtown bar called The Shrimp Boat, which would open at 8am; the place still stands under the name The Starboard Side. (It quite proudly refuses to be gentrified.) Taken altogether, it feels fair to say that much of Paul Tuno’s attitudes towards hospitality (everyone is welcome, always), meat (abhor fat at the table, but use everything) and fish (he was, as you may guess, something of a shrimp obsessive) have filtered straight into the present day both for myself and the rest of our clan.

Paul knew how to butcher, Paul knew how to have a good time, Paul didn’t suffer fools. He shouted at the TV news, he’d laugh at a dirty joke until he wheezed, he was a sentimental bastard who’d cry at a perfect tune. He spent the last twenty years of his life shirtless and in a pair of denim cutoffs, and yet his hair was impeccably slicked back every time I saw him. There are times, sitting at the kitchen table, when I feel like I might be more like him than anyone else who raised me. I often consider adopting his signature eccentricity (other than the decades of shirtless jorts wardrobe): Drinking Milwaukee’s Best in a small beer glass with table pepper sprinkled on top. It kept the head that way.

All of this by way of saying that there were no vegetarians in my family. There was no moral objection to this (or any other lifestyle or religion, that I can recall) in the main of our thinking, but meat was so tied up with who we were, and how we got together, that it simply wasn’t something anyone would ever consider. My grandmother’s pasta fagiole, made with pork bone, simmering for hours; her signature roast beef, the cut and marbling always just so; the Easter ham. Even as a teenager in the ’80s enormously under the spell of Morrrissey, I could never quite cotton to vegetarianism, though its vogue would rise steadily throughout my lifetime. Morrissey says lots of things, I remember thinking. It’s not like you have to do any of them.

On the other hand, I have gotten older. I have treated my body like I’ll be able to swap it out for a new one. Today, for brunch, I had bacon. Just bacon. And not a little bit of bacon. Like a half pound of bacon. And a Coke. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat plenty of other things — quite a few of them healthy, even, and I certainly do not object to many, many meat-free dishes — but basically, I live my life like the guest of honor at a children’s birthday party. I eat whatever I want, whenever I want. But the center cannot hold. A persistent belly holds my figure at bay. My face bears the pudge of excess. A bottle of unopened blood pressure meds has sat on my sink threateningly for months now. Even my colon, I imagine, thinks I’m an asshole at this point.


Getting my #PhillyVegPledge menus together! Gonna be a fun week.

A photo posted by Joey Sweeney (@jojosweeney) on

So when Greenlimbs and the Humane League of Philadelphia asked me to participate with other, uh, Philadelphians of Note, in this year’s #PhillyVegPledge — a week of meat-free diet — I had no right whatsoever saying no. If I may interpret their motives, the VegPleg is less about evangelism on behalf of lentils and far more about paying attention to what one consumes as a matter of ethics and personal health. Forget about Morrissey’s old saws about animal cruelty — far more compelling are the infographics illustrating how much natural resources are taken up producing one cow’s worth of consumable cow. As we begin to feel the actual effects of global warming and continue to pretend like the supply of simple drinking water itself isn’t gonna be a huge issue within our own respective life spans, the vegetarians and the vegans have the moral high ground now more than ever.

But I will spare the niceties about this: No one likes them. Have you ever been in a conversation with a group of chefs about vegans? It is hate magic. Non-carnivores in our society bear the same historical burden of many who have come before whose moral position was correct but whose likability suffered from any number social gaffes, misunderstandings and just plain bad luck. This is regrettable, but, in a meat-based society, understandable, too. I mention it because in mere hours, I too will be a vegetarian, however temporarily. I have to have my eyes open to the ways I will be treated. And I have to know where I stand.

And where I stand is this: As I prepare my menu for the week ahead — no meat, no fish, but some dairy — I will lean towards types of cuisine I enjoy and know bits about already, but with a keen eye towards picking up some new tricks. I will not complain, ever. Should I find myself in a restaurant where a vegetarian meal is difficult to obtain, I won’t be a bitch about it: No special requests, and again, no complaining. Perhaps most notably, I will abstain entirely from the Fake Meat Pretend Food that, I believe, has been the biggest threat to vegetarian credibility over the past few decades by way of its withering deference. I will not eat a fucking Not Dog. No veggie burgers for me, thank you. In fact, no product bearing a soy or seitan pun shall enter my body. Not because I hate puns, but because of a longstanding disdain for assimilation among my fellow freaks. We don’t need these fascist groove foods. And lastly, no fucking pizza, and no macaroni and cheese. Because the unimaginative vegetarians who subsist on these are the worst kinds of vegetarians there are.

Instead, there shall be noodle dishes bearing traces of the Sichuan and Vietnamese, delights from the Mediterranean and Middle East, hearty Mexican dishes, New American Cuisine, plenty of stuff on the grill, and some things that I’ll just make up as I go along. I’ll play off the strength of my household’s skill set in the kitchen (I have a great cheat in that my fiancé is a fantastic cook who also was a vegetarian for 8 years), and I will endeavor with a sense of adventure.

But that won’t come until midnight on Sunday night. Until then, I’m going to sit here and eat a giant plate of sweet Italian sausage. See you on the other side, friends.

– Joey Sweeney

Join us for the rest of the week here at Phoodie.info, where each day, our fearless narrator will relay his week of eating like a responsible human being.

(Testing 1…2…3…)


Pro tip: We didn't hate this box wine and in fact actually quite enjoyed it.

A photo posted by Joey Sweeney (@jojosweeney) on

Are we back on? Shhhhhhh.



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Lunch Break: Drag Queen, Chik-Fil-A Edition

Someday, somebody’s gonna make you wanna gobble on up up on a waffle fry
But no go, don’t you know, Chik-Fil-A say, you’ll make the baby Jesus cry!

Fishtown NoLibs Penn’s Landing Restaurant Week August 1-10 Will Destroy Democracy, America

nightout_logorevised_20140729In the distant future, grad students, if there still are such things, will scratch their heads and chuckle bemusingly at us, as we did generations before, as grad students studying the folly of the last days of Rome. How could they not see suicide path on which they deliberately trod? Could they not see that all the vomitoria and slavery and corruption was unsustainable? Did they really think that the Vandals and Visigoths would be forever held at bay with meager scraps and the lip-service paid to them in the form of “Roman Citizenship, Of A Sort”? The blame for the crumbling of the republic lies with all who idly watched. Yeah, that’s what the’ll say about Legitimate Rape and hot sister on brother action and yes, Restaurant Week.

We all know that Restaurant Weeks are problematic at best, and a waste of everybody’s time and money at worst, and yet they are reproducing like a goddamn virus. Just as we all know that corporations and the billionaires who run them are ruining the republic, we are unable to stop their metastasization and it’s a pretty good bet that they will take the United States of America and representative democracy with them as they drag the greatest governmental experiment ever conceived back with them into feudalism and eventually the very premature death of the planet itself.

But that doesn’t mean a night out in the Fish for $35 couldn’t be fun. Right around Halloweeen, our first semester freshman roommate realized that he had dropped way more classes than he had added and was failing both of the 101 classes that were left on his schedule. With the freeing glee of a short term future decided, Crash – his real name lost to the mists of time – enjoyed and relished his last weeks of higher learning with the gusto of condemned man digging into the steak and lobster quesadillas provided him by the warden. And that is how you should dig into restaurant week in Fishtown, NoLibs and Penn’s Landing.

NIGHT OUT RESTAURANT WEEK’ DEBUTS AUG. 1—10 IN FISHTOWN, NORTHERN LIBERTIES AND PENN’S LANDING
Neighborhood Eateries to Offer Three-course, Prix-fixe Menus for Lunch and Dinner

PHILADELPHIA – Attention all Philly foodies—there’s a new restaurant week in town. “Night Out Restaurant Week,” which will run from Friday, Aug. 1 until Sunday, Aug. 10, features 14 participating restaurants across the Fishtown, Northern Liberties and Penn’s Landing sections of the city.

From Aug. 1–10, participants will offer three courses per person for a set price. Lunches will cost either $10 or $20, while dinners will cost either $25 or $35. All restaurants will offer a dinner option, while select restaurants will offer lunch.

Participating restaurants include:
· Bar Ferdinand – $35 dinner
· Chart House – $35 dinner
· Circles Contemporary Thai Cuisine (Northern Liberties) – $25 dinner
· Darling’s Diner – $20 lunch; $35 dinner
· El Camino Real – $10 lunch; $25 dinner
· Il Cantuccio – $35 dinner
· Jerry’s Bar – $35 dinner
· Keating’s River Grill – $20 lunch; $35 dinner
· Lloyd – $25 dinner
· Moshulu – $20 lunch; $35 dinner
· The Pickled Heron – $35 dinner
· The Refinery – $20 lunch; $35 dinner
· Ristorante La Veranda – $20 lunch; $35 dinner
· Taste – $35 dinner

You can dig the Complete menu offerings and reservation information over at  Night Out Restaurant Week.

Who is puppet-master of this sumbitch you ask? Why the magnanimous gonnifiem over at Sugar House:

“We’re happy to organize this for the community and shine a spotlight on our neighborhood,” Wendy Hamilton, general manager of SugarHouse Casino, said. “There are a ton of fantastic spots here, and we saw an opportunity to help showcase what they’ve got. If you haven’t been to one of these restaurants before and have been wanting to try them—now’s your chance!”

So, embrace the nihilism, the prix fixeness of it all and our eventual asian overlords, and remember, “Don’t blame us, we voted for Kodos.



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