Well, I'm nearing the end of week three of my four-week vegan adventure, and my resolve and my self-discipline have never been stronger. I have survived (one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, Telepan, gave me a special vegan meal including three animal product-free amuse bouches) and resisted (do you have any idea how many non-vegan Valentine's Day sweets were delivered to the office?!).
Nary a bite and barely a whiff of non-vegan food has passed through my hands or mouth or gullet. Kenji gave me something delicious to take home for dinner one night, and our proximity to Taim, which is for all intents and purposes a vegan joint, has been a godsend. I had three kinds of vegetable dumplings at Red Egg (I recommend the pan-fried vegetable dumplings), and a vegan rice bowl at Chipotle. I'm past the point of feeling deprived, and that feels good. My energy is good (thank you, peanut butter), and I'm generally feeling strong.
But this week presented a very personal issue: a death in the family. My cousin Terry, who passed away at the ripe old age of 95, loved food and exploring just as much as I do. How many nanogenarians do you know who made lists of homemade marshmallow purveyors and burger joints to hit when you came to visit her on Long Island? On any given afternoon, we'd eat chocolate-covered marshmallows from Schwartz's, a Sicilian slice from Umberto's, and cheeseburger and a coffee malt at Hildebrandt's— and at the end of the day, I was more exhausted than her.
Terry was much more than a first cousin by marriage once removed. After both my parents passed away by the time I was 15, Terry and her husband Sam provided great love, comfort, support, and wisdom to me and my brothers. So when Terry's son Robert asked me to bring some shiva* food that would honor her, I knew I had a responsibility to bring a serious spread, vegan or not. For Terry, I would pretty much go anywhere to get food to honor her love and service to me, my family, and the rest of the world for that matter.
*Jews pay shiva, a week-long mourning period, to the bereaved, and part of any shiva call is a food offering.
So I picked up a smoked salmon, whitefish, bagel, and cream cheese platter at justifiably legendary Russ & Daughters, along with some rugelach, halvah, and chocolate covered jelly treats made by a company called Joyva that every Jew who grew up In New York has a soft spot for. Then, just because I had passed it on my way to picking up the rental car, I grabbed some things from Maison Kayser: three baguettes, four brownies, and three pistachio financiers. I also ordered a deli sandwich platter from the local deli in New Hyde Park, Deli King. That was followed by a visit to Taim, where I had ordered two platters of hummus, carrots, pickles, baba ghanoush, quinoa salad, and Israeli salad. They threw in some falafel, which I knew wouldn't travel well, and some of their extraordinary pitas.
When I arrived and put out the entire spread on the dining room table, I had the sense that from somewhere on high, my cousin Terry would have been so pleased. She would have been kvelling—bursting with pride—as we say in Yiddish. And I was pretty pleased with myself for eating only the vegan goodies from Taim.
And maybe, just maybe, Terry would be kvelling about me succeeding, 20 days in, on my great vegan adventure.