Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Carnivore's Guide to Cardiology: Drinking Problem

When I started on the major overhaul of all the stuff I ingest, I figured the food alterations would be the most difficult. They’ve actually come off pretty easy. The change in my taste buds has caused even what I WANT to eat to be radically different than it had been in the past. There are all these hidden flavors in various forms of vegetation that I had been missing all these years by blasting my tongue with a plethora of junk food.

Up until recently, I viewed pears as a slightly less flavored apple, but now I can appreciate the variety between different breeds, as long as they’re mushy. (This lets me play “Is it rotten yet?” the home game.) There are apparently different flavors of apple as well, go figure. And how’s this for an amazing discovery? Vegetables can taste different based on how you cook them! Who knew? I realize this may be obvious to most, but considering my reaction to any of them used to be, “Get these freakin’ plants off my plate!” any detection of subtlety is a huge step.

By adding a mix of these newly found edibles, and throwing in a bunch of fat free and/or grilled substitutions, I can do pretty well at home. There’s even Calandra’s bakery that makes excellent fat/cholesterol/sugar free Italian bread that I can use as the base for olive oil garlic bread and fat free pizza when I need my blood garlic level adjusted. Eating out is slightly more challenging, but it hasn’t been too hard, although the complexity level has risen a bit. My standard line of, “Just make the steak as rare as you legally can,” is now a thing of the past. However, between leaving off sauces, more grilled substitutes, and – Y’know – that whole eating vegetables thing, ordering out is still pretty simple. (And while healthier, still has the occasional unpleasant biological surprise. The first time I finished a double side order of broccoli, I nearly blew myself off the treadmill later that evening.)

Little did I realize that while the food conversions would be far simpler than I imagined, the beverage switch would be much harder. For starters, the only diet soda most places carry is Cola, which has caffeine in it. I am learning to drink a great deal more water, which is very healthy (from all the exercise of running to the can every five minutes), and also prevents the little psychotic episodes that occur when I’m dehydrated, so everyone wins. The sad part is I used to only drink water with Chinese food, which I can’t really have anymore. As the only food I’ve given up that I truly miss on a regular basis, Chinese food is dripped in irony now. I got so proficient at vegetable removal from years of practice that I could clear out a whole plate of fried rice with chopsticks in seconds. Now I can eat the vegetables…but I can’t eat the stinkin’ rice. In fact it was at Hunan Taste shortly after I got the stent that I finished all of my broccoli for the first time in forty years, and I still couldn’t have desert. The irony continues even with healthy Chinese. A friend recommended Nancy Chang’s, a heart healthy place that we were going to pass in Massachusetts. My wife and I both ordered meals with mixed vegetables. She got a nice variety of pea pods, mushrooms, and many others of my new found friends. I, on the other hand, got a few water chestnuts, and thirty pounds of my arch enemy, celery. (One of the few remaining plants I still can’t enjoy, along with cucumber, which conspires often with the celery to ruin my sushi.) This left me no choice but to fall back on my believed to be no longer needed veggie removal skills.

It’s neither the water, nor the commando vegetables that cause me the most confusion ordering out, however. It’s the alcohol. I wasn’t ready to start going to meetings or anything, but there were a couple of drinks I really enjoyed. Simple, non confusing drinks.

Southern Comfort on ice is nicely straight forward. One ingredient, one brand, no problem.

My other choice, normally a compliment to, “as rare as you legally can,” was, “The darkest beer you have.” Again: simple, straight forward, no confusion.

Due to the possible effects of some of my new medications on the liver and inherent cardiac benefits, I decided that as well as changing my whole diet, I would only drink red wine. “How hard could that be?” I thought (although “thought” is probably too strong a word for this) wine comes in red and white, and I have made another clear and obvious choice. I had been unaware that there are approximately forty-seven thousand varieties, shades, densities and colors of red wine. In upscale restaurants I usually end up staring blankly at the waiter, even discounting when I can’t pronounce the fancy sauces. The obvious escape of “house red” doesn’t always work as there’s the Merlot, the Cabernet, the Pinot Butter etc.

The waiters are sometimes helpful, but not always. I had tried lots of Merlots (why that doesn’t rhyme, I don’t know) and was hoping for a change. Since all the crap in my head is stored alphabetically, I started to order the wine, and all I got out was,

“Not the Merlot, the other one that starts with a ‘c’.”

Then the waiter said, “The Chardonnay?”

To which I cleverly replied, “Sure, whatever.”

Needless to say, we were both kind of confused when he brought the glass out, and I said,

“Um. . . That’s white. I wanted red.”

He did end up replacing it with a Merlot, and as much as this looks like my fault, I disagree. In this situation, the waiter is an employee of a restaurant that serves wine on a daily basis, whereas I am clearly an idiot demonstrated by the fact that I have ordered wine using the opening line from, “C is for Cookie”.

Which of us would you say is more likely to know the difference, and therefore should be responsible for knowing the difference, between a Chardonnay and a Cabernet?

The defense rests.

My other big problem figuring out what I like comes from the first wines I learned I enjoyed, Luna de Luna, which are all blends. Because of this, anytime I try wine tastings, the flavor I like best is when the tasting is over and I swizzle all the remainders around in a single glass; uncultured heathen barbarian that I am.

A large amount of theoretically helpful people have suggested I should try Shiraz. I suspect this is because they are interested in hearing how badly I will mangle its pronunciation. However, there aren’t many Shirazes (Shirazen? Shirazottomi?) that meet my criteria for wine selection:

(1) On sale
(2) A goofy name and/or a funny label.

My current favorite brands are “Gnarly Head”, “Fat Bastard”, and an unpronounceable Moldavian Rose’ in a bunny shaped bottle. (As you can see, there is no chance of me getting cultured from this beverage shift.) In most cases I’ve found using my criteria (in direct contrast to similarly designated beers) allow me to find interestingly and entertainingly flavored choices. (The one exception being “Old Fart” wine which tastes exactly like it sounds. The fact that I almost bent my corkscrew on the bottle cap should have tipped me off.  Also, note to the makers of "Vampire" wine: it should only be attention, people.) Not only are they tasty, but they also lead me to try a much larger variety of wines. The reason for this is the unusual ones are frequently under stocked, meaning I often cannot find the same brand twice, especially when I keep forgetting where I bought them. (There’s that idiot thing working in my favor again). Therefore I shall continue to let comedy be my guide in the liquor store.

I did check the Cardiac Contract with myself and learned I could have my weekly desert be a beer , however thanks to the lack of resistance to many of the ingredients my body is no longer used to that are in beer, now a single bottle causes me to puff up like a hyper allergenic blow fish. Fortunately, I discovered you can hide the occasional shot of Bailey’s invisibly in a fat free egg cream… Bottoms Up!


longbow said...

Ha Ha, 'Pinot Butter'. I'm stealing that.

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx for the comment. It's kind of discouraging though after all the work writing this one, that throw away gag gets more laughs than the whole thing.

Kim Luer said...

Don't be too discouraged, this line
"whereas I am clearly an idiot demonstrated by the fact that I have ordered wine using the opening line from, “C is for Cookie”."
Almost made me fall out of my chair. (twice actually - lucky for me I don't always remember stuff I read, so I can get twice the enjoyment out of stuff)

Jeff McGinley said...

So that brain not working thing creates comedy for both of us...I guess that's why people can tell we're related.