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I was in my early teens when my mother took to wearing a pendant around her neck that read, “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” Around my own neck, I wore many strands of “luv” beads that I had strung myself, some of them made of apple or watermelon seeds. My request to go to the Woodstock Festival with some 17-year-old chaperones wasn’t even entertained. Instead, my mother let me accompany her to Washington, DC, to march against the war in Vietnam, which was pretty cool. This was before overalls were made for women, so I ordered a men’s small from the Sears and Roebuck Company and began parading around, with my mother’s reluctant blessing, in those baggy, ill-fitting bibbed jeans.
The first health-food stores were opening, and I used my allowance to buy Kretchmer’s wheat germ, soy beans, wheat berries, chamomile and mint teas, brown rice, and carob pods (as a substitute for chocolate). I made every
effort to avoid white flour products and replace refined sugar with honey. In lieu of caffeine, which over-stimulated me, I bought a powdered breakfast drink, called Postum, made with wheat bran, wheat and molasses. It tasted nothing at all like coffee, but at least it didn’t make me jittery. I denounced meat as unhealthy and gave up all but fowl and fish, which my mother somehow convinced me to keep in my diet.
I had always had an interest in cooking and began to prepare meals for myself and my family with the help of Mollie Katzen’s “Moosewood Cookbook,” Anna Thomas’s “The Vegetarian Epicure,” Frances Moore Lappé’s “Diet for a Small Planet,” and small volumes on both Indian and Italian cooking. I recall one soybean casserole made in a loaf pan that turned out so dense that my father dryly suggested we shellac it and use it as a door-stop. My mother, always supportive, talked to me of subtle changes I might make in the recipe and thought some sort of sauce might elevate the dish. I junked it, but forged ahead with new recipes.
There was another cookbook I used extensively; I wish I could remember the name now. One of my favorite recipes was for corn fritters served with maple syrup. Seafood was an extravagance, so I ate copious amounts of chicken in various guises and the crisp, chunky fritters were a perfect side dish for fowl.
From the Italian cookbook, I discovered vegetable bread puddings called strata and frittatas, which are egg-based dishes similar to the Spanish omelet known as a tortilla. Stratas are versatile and can be made with any combination of vegetables you feel like using. My favorite frittata was made with leftover spaghetti in marinara sauce. The top, after a short trip under the broiler, became crusty and golden; the spaghetti strands a touch crunchy. The Indian cookbook introduced me to curry and garam masala spice mixtures, and I often made a thick split-pea soup redolent of those exotic spices, topped with a dollop of yogurt.
I ate well and didn’t let pork, beef, or lamb cross my lips for over 30 years. Then one evening I was at a Spanish tapas restaurant with two friends, one a chef and the other a hefty gourmand. The latter asked of the waitress, “What’s the one thing we shouldn’t leave the restaurant without tasting?” A platter of crispy-skinned, roast suckling pig arrived at the table. After watching my companions smack their lips with upward-rolled eyes, I told them to pass the plate.
That was the beginning of reintroducing red meat into my diet, and I’ve never looked back. I still try not to overload my diet with those proteins and continue to eat a plethora of vegetables and whole-grain carbs. To be honest, it was a pleasure to cut down on the amount of chicken and turkey I consumed over those 30 years. I think I was beginning to grow wings.
6 large eggs
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces cooked pasta, preferably spaghetti, in marinara or meat sauce
2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil
In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the pasta and mix well. In a nine-inch nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the pasta mixture and press it down with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook, lowering the heat if necessary, until the eggs are just set but still moist in the center and the frittata is lightly browned on the bottom, about 10 minutes. Turn on the broiler and slide the skillet under the broiler for three to five minutes or until the top is set. Remove from the oven and let rest about five minutes. Slice into wedges and serve.