Five years ago when I asked Andrew what he wanted to give up for Lent, he immediately answered, “meat!”
I broke out in a sweat.
“You can’t give up meat,” I told him.
“Why not? I want to give up meat!” he rebounded with growing enthusiasm now that I was against it.
I started to dig in my heels too. “Well, for one thing, if you give up meat then I have to give it up and there’s no way I’m going to give it up.”
He followed with the logical, “You don’t have to give it up if I do. You can give up something else.”
I was started to get upset. “Who do you think is going to cook your meals? I’m not going to cook two separate meals everyday!”
I know too many parents with kids who had turned vegetarian or even worse, vegan. They all lamented how they had to cook multiple meals to satisfy all the needs of their family. I barely have time to cook one evening meal. There was no way I was going to start a new career as a short-order cook.
Besides, I can barely tolerate my friends who play around the edges of this cultish behavior by only eating fish. They call themselves “Pescatarians” and even the name sounds vaguely like a new-age religion that requires some form of Kool-Aid drinking. Vegetarianism was going too far and Veganism would be worse than having Andrew don Hari Krishna robes and dance in the streets. I could clearly picture the cult deprogrammers snatching him up into a van and locking him in a meat-packing plant until he came to his senses and ate a hamburger.
The problem was that Andrew’s request made sense. Lent is a time where giving up something important helps you to see life through different lenses. We eat meat and, if the truth be told, we probably eat more than our fair share. If Andrew were going to pick something that was meaningful and an actual sacrifice, meat would be a great option.
I made a quick decision and offered a compromise, “How about we give up meat, but we can still eat fish? We’ll be Pescatarians for Lent!”
He liked the name, but…
With a bit more heated exchange, Andrew agreed and a family tradition was born. We have converted to “Pescatarianism” every Lent since that time, and it has become one of my most cherished times of the year.
Sometimes, though, Lent comes early. For my family, Lent came very early this year. It came before Christmas.
My brother found out that his cancer had come back for a third time. He was whisked into surgery within days of the diagnosis and had two tumors removed. One was the size of a small soccer ball. Now, six weeks after surgery he has started his Chemotherapy. There’s nothing like the big C to get you into reflection mode. Even for those of us not diagnosed.
This weekend we got the first “Uncle Fester Bald and Beautiful” photo, and I know that many in the family are going to shave their heads in solidarity. I love my brother, but I have a not so irrational fear that what hair I have left may not come back so I’m not giving up my hair for Lent.
Instead, we’re going to give up what I fear losing even more than my hair: being a carnivore. And we’re taking it a step further. We’re going to become Vegans. That means a wholly plant-based diet without any animal byproducts.
Translation? No meat, cheese, butter, milk, eggs; not even honey. We’re also giving up all things white which means many kinds of pasta and flour products.
It may sound like an odd way to support my brother. However, there is research starting to emerge with some evidence that a radical change to a plant-based, macrobiotic-type diet can turn back the tide on cancer and even eliminate it from the body that we challenged him to make this radical change. The research is still in its infancy and much of it is anecdotal, but if changing your diet could save your life and let you live to hold your grandkids, then it’s worth a try.
My whole family has been hounding my brother to radically change his 48-year-old traditions and that’s easier said than done when you’ve lived your life as a gun slinging, NRA card-carrying, large animal hunter and carnivore deluxe.
So Andrew and I challenged him to let go of some of his cherished beliefs, and we will support him by doing the same. This time it was my idea, but Andrew signed up right away. For the next forty days I will be posting more than usual. The posts won’t be long essays about life with Andrew, but more of a record of the challenges and recipes that we find along our Lenten journey as we confront a new life as Vegans. We hope the recipes give my brother some good tasting, meat free, meal ideas and incentive to make the change. We also hope to learn a thing or two about how to live our lives when we leave our Lenten time of restraint and reflection.
We invite you to journey with us and hope that you enjoy some of the recipes along the way. This is going to be the biggest culinary challenge since Andrew came to live with me and the truth is I’m more than a bit nervous. But it’s not Lent quite yet, so please indulge me in one more Mardi Gras worthy recipe.
This is better than bacon and eggs for breakfast. It’s also got enough calories and fat to stop a heart in its track, so I wouldn’t suggest it for everyday fare. However, this is Andrew’s current favorite meal. It’s also the one meal that he has learned by heart and can make when I can’t cook dinner. I told him that when he’s older and coming home late after a night of dancing that he could really win the heart of any girl if he could whip up a quick batch of Carbonara. I guess that was all the incentive he needed.
This is a very fast and easy meal to throw together at the last minute and with the exception of using the more exotic meat choices of pancetta or guanciale, you will most likely have everything on hand after a night of dancing or just a late night at work.
1 pound spaghetti
½ pound bacon (or pancetta or guanciale: see note)
5 cloves garlic divided 3 and 2, chopped
½ cup dry white wine
¾ cup Parmesan, shredded
½ cup Pecorino Romano cheese, shredded
This is a dinner that comes together fast, so it’s important to have all the ingredients prepped before you start.
Warm a large bowl with hot water or place in a warm oven.
Mix the eggs, three cloves of diced garlic and the cheese in a small bowl.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and when ready boil the pasta for 10 minutes or al dente.
Meanwhile, sauté the bacon in a medium-hot pan until it starts to brown and just starts to crisp. Throw in two cloves of diced garlic. Sauté until it gives off its fragrance. Throw in the white wine and let it boil off a bit and becomes syrupy. Turn off the heat.
Just before the pasta is finished, dry the bowl if you used water to warm and pour the egg mixture into it. Drain the pasta and put it in the bowl and toss until the pasta is well coated. Pour the bacon mixture onto the pasta and toss again. You may need to add a bit more salt depending on how salty the bacon is. Give a really good grinding of pepper and you’re finished. Serve it with a sprinkling of Parmesan and parsley.
Note: This dish originated in Rome and was originally made with guanciale, or cured pork jowl. You can now find it in the U.S., but it’s still not a staple. Good pancetta, Italian bacon, works well also. However, bacon is really good too. You really can’t go wrong with any of these.