Sunday, April 4, 2010

I'm a city mouse

In the introduction to The Urban Vegan, Dynise recounts the children's story about the country mouse and the city mouse and proclaims herself a city mouse.  As I read more into the book and remember posts from her blog that I've read in the past, I realize that she is my neighbor, geographically - I was out walking today and passed this tree.  In any case, I can identify with so many things she references, but more so, just her love of the city I also call my own.

I must admit, when I went through the book the second time, one of the things that stood out to me is how frequently she refers to the "boondockian coal-mining region" of her childhood, as well as how much more frequently she makes reference to being an urbanite, a city girl, an urban vegan, etc.  I think she mentions city life in every recipe intro, which makes sense since the book is about being urban and vegan, but there were times I thought, "do we really need another reference to what a busy city girl you are?"  I realized, though, that I am the same way - I relish that I am a city girl now, as I also grew up in what is just barely suburban Philadelphia.  When I returned to my hometown for my friend's father's viewing, I couldn't help gaping as I drove through what used to be a very under-developed area.  To put it another way - one reason I moved to Philadelphia in my early 20s was because my hometown was about as exciting as watching snails race one another.

Although I was off from work today, I had to get up and out early so I could move my car from the metered space it occupied (one of the less delightful aspects of city life).  This afforded me the time in the day to get a great deal done - I was astonishingly productive.  I can only guess that the sparkling weather was what invigorated me, because I very often have days like today planned only to see my to-do list half undone at the end of it.  Even though all the things I did today were pleasant, even enjoyable, I just haven't been able to get myself to do them until today. 

The point of all this is just to say that I am more in love with my city now than I have been in a while.  I think after a while you get used to things and start to take them for granted, but then a day like today comes along and I realized at every turn how much I love where I live and how fortunate that makes me.  I came into contact with a lot of truly pleasant people - people kind and courteous enough to make me forget all of the other kinds I usually seem to encounter.  Sometimes it's all in your mood and mindset, though - I had a couple of good encounters early today and that colored my perception for the rest of it, generally.

There was the friendly bank teller
And the quirky, spiky-haired man who sold me some hair dye
The enthusiastic cashier at Essene who wished me a happy day and called me by the name my receipt printed out for him
The grateful fellow customer who thanked me profusely for helping her find Vital Wheat Gluten
The warm gentleman who sold me my amazing new pair of Carlos Santana sandals and gave me a flower
The helpful salesman at Williams-Sonoma who helped me find the one thing I couldn't locate on my own, despite the very demanding, newly-married couple who apparently wanted him to find every item on their registry that their guests hadn't given them
The numerous complete strangers who complimented me on my hair and/or makeup today

I could go on, but you get the point.  It was just a great day and I love being a "city mouse."

So, back to my adventures with The Urban Vegan - so far I have made two of my dinners and both were fantastic.  I think Dynise just might have something here.  Honestly, the only fault I find so far is that for all her mention of being a busy city girl, it seems like most of her recipes take well over an hour from chopping to serving.  That being said, she has managed to provide me with the only paella recipe (using rice) that doesn't involve 2 hours of simmering only to still bite down on uncooked kernels of rice.

I made her Granada Paella and it was sublime.  It really doesn't look very exciting and I was a little concerned about that since I seem to have convinced myself that food must look interested to be interesting, but it was quite flavorful and surprisingly creamy.  I used Basmati rice, instead of Arborio, and I left out the saffron because I'm still a little scarred from my last (first) experience with it.  To my extreme surprise (and ineffable delight), the rice fully cooked in the broth in the 30 minutes I gave it.

Actually, let me share the introduction to this recipe, as it provides a perfect example of why this book is such a pleasure to own:
Granada, Spain is one of my favorite cities in the world - especially at night.  Wandering through the silent, curving streets after midnight feels just slightly dangerous, as if you are peeking in someone else's window.  Except in this case, the window is an entire city with a culture all its own.  The silence is inevitably shattered, at some point, by an angry flamenco guitar and the loud, off-key singing of some bar patron who's had too much sangria.
Tonight, I made Balsamic-Roasted Vegetables.  It was very tasty, though I made some mental notes of changes I would like to make next time.

It's very pretty, yes?  For the four peppers the recipe calls for, I used two red, one orange, and one yellow pepper.  There are also three Yukon Gold potatoes in there, and I substituted broccoli for the eggplant.  To make it a more substantial dinner, I added the left over Tofurkey sausage from last night's paella.  The only things I will do differently in the future are these: use a bigger roasting pan and roast the potatoes for about 15 minutes before adding the other vegetables.

I'll leave you with that tasty image.  I need to get to bed so I can wake up early and make food before we go to church and lunch with my in-laws.  I also need to touch up my hair with the aforementioned dye.  I am becoming more Greek with every passing year - by the time I have my own house in which to host holidays, I'll just stay up all night preparing the food.

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