Monday, March 17, 2008

The Fish Market, or Surviving Holy Week

If I contemplate another 5 days without meat, I think I'll scream.

This may be because we've reached the last week of Lent, the holiest week in the Christian calendar, during which cheating is definitely not an option. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, we've sentenced ourselves to a meat-less Lent, Sabbaths excluded)It may also have something to do with the fact that we ate every meal out this weekend, for the most part at fabulous seafood places.

Maryland Blue Crabs
Originally uploaded by .Angeli

Why on earth did we do this to ourselves? Why did we throw away our precious few meat days on fish? Well, coincidentally or not, some of D.C.'s best casual restaurants happen to be seafood joints and D's parents were visiting from the Midwest. We had sinfully good oysters and fried clams at Hank's Oyster Bar, hit up the Smithsonian (I'd forgotten that the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art is so freakin' impressive), overordered at Bistro Bis, and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the tourists at Mt. Vernon (I abhor adolescent school trips. They're too busy with their own complicated social structures and taking photos of everything to pay attention to what they're looking at). Best of all, we had Sunday morning breakfast at the D.C. Fish Market.

Originally uploaded by .Angeli

Now is time for me to wax poetical. The Fish Market is this dirty, mucky place on the wharf, buried just below a particularly hard-to-navigate piece of D.C. city planning and therefore impossible to find unless you're looking for it. On this particular morning, it was cold, wet, gray, and absolutely glorious. More fresh fish than you could shake a stick at, anything that's in season, all beauties. Crab, alive or already cooked. Whole fish, steaks, or fillets. Local fish like trout or flounder, or exotic swordfish and tuna and salmon that have been flown in. And if you're not shopping for dinner, there are hush puppies, stuffed crab, oysters shucked in front of you, and the best New England clam chowder I have ever had at Jessie's Cooked Seafood stand.

Originally uploaded by .Angeli

Okay, so that's not saying much, since my experience with clam chowder is limited. However, D's Mom assures me that it's truly amazing and I've decided that she's a credible source, given that she entitled her last vacation "The Great New England Clam Tour" and drove around tasting clam chowder morning noon and night. Jessie's wife has been making clam chowder from the same recipe for over 20 years (so claims Jessie), and uses a clam-based stock instead of ubiquitous seafood stock (so say my tastebuds). Creamy, but not too creamy, with chewy fresh clams, it tastes like the sea. It is by far the best eating-out option in D.C. And at $5 for an extra-large serving, you can go back again, and again, and again. Next time you're in D.C., go!

But back to Holy Week. With 5 weeks of meat-less eating under our belts, what have we learned? Well, for one, that our diet depends on meat a lot more than we thought. Almost all soups and sauces call for chicken or beef stock for heartiness, and many of our favorite pasta or other 'one-pot' dishes call for small quantities sausage or some other meat product for flavor/texture. There's a big difference between dishes-not-revolving-around-a-meat-main and meatless dishes, which we didn't fully appreciate when we started this.

We've also come to realize (duh) that eating vegetarian in the winter sucks. In the summer, you just throw some fresh veggies together and sprinkle some lemon on and it's the best meal you've ever had. In the winter, when you crave warm, hearty meals, mediocre imported veggies simply aren't as satisfying. We've come to depend on carbs and beans a lot. I don't want to see another lentil soup until 2009. So, this excercise brought out the worst in both the veggies and in our culinary patience. It didn't help that we're both gratuitously stringent when it comes to recipe quality -- if it's not the best, we'd rather not eat it.

Yesterday evening, when we sat down to put together the week's shopping list (yay for having the car back and being able to do a mass shop!), it was pretty depressing to realize that we couldn't find anything vegetarian that we wanted to eat. We leafed through mountains of cookbooks and recipe clippings, but nothing that was in season seemed inspiring or exciting. As noted in a hilarious post by Laura at The Kitchen Illiterate blog, hearty vegetarian recipes have an unfortunate tendency to turn out as monochromatic mush. The irony is that, within a few weeks of returning to the world of the omnivores, it'll be spring and we'll be feasting on asparagus and peas and making dishes far too light for any sort of meat addition. Kind of funny, but also kind of depressing.

So has it been worth it?
From a religious perspective, absolutely. Oh man, do I ever feel like I'm the fasting penitent, waiting with anticipation for Easter. It's been a while since I've felt this appreciative that the Almighty made creation and pronounced it edible. From the ethical standpoint, I'm still inclined to increase our consumption of "happy" meat once we get through this -- yesterday, while driving to D's parents' hotel, we finally stumbled across the Dupont Farmers' Market and man is it big! But from the diet standpoint? I don't know. Maybe once this is over, I'll be more easily satisfied with meat stock in my soup or small quantities of sausage in my pasta... or maybe I'll be so sick of eating vegetarian that I'll cook nothing but meat-based dishes for months.

In the mean time, 4 more vegetarian dinners until Shabbat.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment! It's nice to see another food blogger who's interested in food and religion. Good luck on the last few days of your fast! I have not been quite so diligent.

Flanboyant Eats said...

oh how i miss the market in DC... nothing at all here in ATL..
i meant to visit last time i was home a few weeks ago.. nice finding you.

Johanna said...

thanks for visiting my blog! But I was surprised at how hard you find it to eat nice vegetarian food - I find vegetarian food exciting and substantial and it can be done with such flair! But then I have been eating vegetarian for 16 years and never liked meat!

On my blog I am holding an event to encourage people to try making nut roast - I have compared it to meat loaf but it really is quite different if you are used to eating meat - but worth a try if you want a great substantial vegetarian winter dish - for ideas and advice on it go to If you do try it, post about it before 18 April and send me the post as I am really interested to hear from both vegetarians and meat eaters what they honestly think about it.

Probably a bit late in lent for you but contact me (or check my blog) if you do want other ideas for vegetarian meals

Neen said...

Johanna, thanks for your comments and suggestions! I absolutely agree, vegetarian food can definitely be exciting and stimulating -- It has just taken me a while to figure out that it takes practice. An unfortunate proportion of vegetarian recipes out there are actually side dishes whose proportions have been multiplied; I'm very interested in learning how to detect and where to find exciting vegetarian recipes. In that sense, your blog and Lisa's over at are invaluable. And I would be very interested in trying out your nut roast recipe; it would be a [much needed] way to segway out of Lent without abandoning our commitment to eating vegetarian more often.