A vegan's guide to celebrating the Fourth of July
I will celebrate just about anything. I don't need an excuse, although if prompted, I can easily come up with one.
As a cultural mutt, I enjoy nothing more than being ethnically ambiguous and observing with utmost devious delight (accompanied by an evil smirk) those who attempt to label me.
Ask me where I am from and you may get different answers depending on who's asking. I have three citizenships melanged with some German, Polish, Peruvian and Belgian blood, a dash of Jewish guilt and a jigger of Catholic original sin that screws me up beyond Freudian proportions — something my therapist's pocketbook enjoys very much. I am also vegan, gay and a somewhat afflicted classical musician. I sell stuff too.
We all wear many hats.
Between arriving in up state New York in 1995 to begin my college studies, moving around out and about finally landing in Houston in 2001, I have adopted many celebrations. I received my U.S. citizenship in 2002. Thanksgiving became meaningful after being welcomed by the beautiful family of a close friend, St. Patty's green beer symbolizes a longing for an Irish crush who got away but never knew I existed, and Christmas means extra cash from all music gigs. What's a church do to without a pied piper?
Independence Day. I only developed appreciation for the Fourth later in life as summers were spent away from familiar friends, usually transitioning from one place to another, once covered in snow in Aspen and another getting to know my partner of almost eight years.
Being an immigrant, the personal meaning of this holiday evolved and will continue to metamorphose as Houston's essence osmoses into my raison d'etre.
Today, the Fourth is about courage, conviction and new beginnings. Ring a bell? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? It takes courage to do what is right for yourself and conviction to stay on course. Sometimes, what is right for yourself is a hop and a skip from mainstream; other times, it's a fork in the road. Feeling different? Weird? Like an outsider?
Houston's sweetheart, Fiona Dawson, reminds us that by 2050, 54 percent of the population will be minorities. Multiplied exponentially by the personal choices and lifestyle preferences, indeed, we are on our way to living in an even more vibrant and diverse world.
So let's be inclusive shall we? Yes, that includes our foodie styles. The alternative? Be pathetically excluded, lame, and hungry.
Not all vegans judge, but some do. Self-rightousness is so last week. I'd rather tempt and tease with ridiculous food that looks and tastes better than conventional. Good eats are just that and do not need a label.
Around the Fourth, when most are engaged in some sort of backyard-grilling-barbecue-meat fest, here are some food must-haves that will satisfy everyone.
Chili Sin Carne
Chili's origins are rooted deep in the heart of Texas. The predecessor of the modern Powerbar, chili was dried into bricks-like shapes that could be rehydrated on the trail by boiling. A popular tourist destination in the late 1800s, San Antonio was home to many "chili queens" who popularized it as a street food. In 1977, it became the official dish of Texas.
Chili has earned "macho dish" status whose infamy can make or break one's reputation. Simply replace any meat with tempeh or seitan and you have an incredible vegan version. There is even vegan sour cream and vegan cheese you can sprinkle stylishly on top. I am sure you have a recipe. If you don't, here is mine.
Roasted Corn on the Cob
Corn has developed a slight marred image since the beginning of the nutritional controversy over high fructose corn syrup brought into the mainstream by Dr. Mehmet Oz. Dare I assert that a barbecue is not complete without biting seductively into its delicate juicy kernels?
The secret to perfect grilled corn is to soak it in seasoned water for an hour before grilling. Use a little salt, sugar, onion and garlic powder for extra flavor. Skip the butter, brush with oil and roast away. Charring a kernel here and there adds character.
Watermelon is the quintessential summer barbecue food. High water content, lots of vitamins, refreshing, a little messy and fun to eat, it can be served in large wedges arranged beautifully on a big platter, cubed in a skewer, or even inside a carved watermelon basket with some familiar fruit friends.
Sexy watermelon? Marinated in a little vodka for a pleasant surprise, this juicy fruit's alter ego is reminiscent of Jekyll & Hyde: nice by day, naughty by night. A little Absolut Citron won't hurt anyone. Especially since it's also vegan.
Meatless dogs have grown immensely since their debut in 1949. No longer are they the rubbery skinny flacid phalluses of yesteryear, but rather juicy, thick, spicy and flavorful stallions found today. Lightlife Smart Dogs are veggilicious, only 80 calories, low in fat and contain no cholesterol. Field Roast Mexican Chipotle Sausages are ideal for a more robust option with sassier flavors seasoned with sweet onions, garlic, cumin, oregano, smoked chipotle and chili de arbol peppers.
For an adult version, top them with your chili sin carne and some Daiya vegan cheese.
Whether you are hosting or being hosted, deliciously seasoned grilled veggies are always a hit. Skewers of mushrooms, onions, peppers and zucchini are colorful and filling. Introduce them to your favorite marinade and grill. In addition. Houstonian Heather Nodler suggests making your own grill packets consisting of "various veggies and extra-firm tofu marinated and wrapped in foil. They are easy to make and bring, and can be buried right down in the grilling coals, hopefully away from dripping burger fat. They make a delicious smokey treat."
What is on your menu this year?