One of my roommates, Sheridan, is an environmentalist. And a vegetarian. I ... am not.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those militant meat eaters you read about in the papers, always trying to make headlines, sneaking up on innocent herbivores down at the farmers' market and smearing au jus across their 100 percent hemp sweater-vests.
No, chow and let chow, I always say.
And when it comes to recycling I like to think that I do my fair share for the planet. In other words, the absolute minimum required by law. Unless I forget.
That's where Sheridan comes in. She's my surrogate eco-conscience, gently guiding my tin can-filled hand from the dark side of the big old trash can in the corner to the warm, glowing light of the appropriate receptacles neatly lined up and labeled under our sink.
So when Environmental Eating Action Team (EEAT) chef Laura Stec invited The Man Who Came to Dinner down to Menlo Park for the group's 22nd annual Decadent Dinner Party, I just had to ask Sherry to join me. EEAT is a division of Bay Area Action, a local environmental education and service group with its fingers in all things green. This Decadent Dinner, themed "Edible Art and Appetizers," promised to let participants design their very own art-foods, or simply dine on those created by several professional guest artists.
Inside the suburban home of a BAA supporter we found a vegetarian carnival in full swing. The place was packed with 120 guests, while in every corner was another example of EEAT's mission: "Positive environmental change through daily food choices." Stealing the spotlight, though, were a man and a woman, seemingly naked save for the elaborate arrangements of green leafy vegetables they wore to cover all the, well -- the goods. On their heads rested crowns of fresh flowers and vines. Between them, they carried a large wooden bowl filled with some kind of Thai noodle salad. Sherry and I watched as guests tore leaves from the pair's bodies, scooped up dollops of noodles, and tossed the whole kit back like participants in some sort of Mu Shu Man Tree ritual.
Postponing the inevitable, we decided to begin our educations out at the patio bar instead, opting for glasses of organic red wine over the bottles of He-Brew -- "The Chosen Beer." Back inside we found that unfortunately in our absence the Cracked Black Pepper Polenta Canvas Station had been all but cracked. Instead Sheridan made her way over to the Artistic Sushi Station to whip us up some fishless fun. Meanwhile I headed across the room to listen to Chef Laura's welcome address, followed by a series of speeches honoring Bay Area Action's Volunteer of the Decade, David Smernoff.
A few minutes later Sheridan joined me with several unusual-looking pieces of sushi. The first, created by one of the guest artists, was a broad, thin slice about the size of my palm. The seaweed perimeter was filled with rice dotted with a very interesting portrait of shapes and colors made from asparagus and peppers and a few other ingredients. "An obvious knockoff from Picasso's edible period," I thought. I gobbled it down whole.
A second, smaller piece had been designed by Sheridan herself, topped with green onions and carrots and a big, pretty pink ribbon. I thanked her, tossed it back, and returned to the speeches. Suddenly, something funny happened. My nose disappeared. My eyes began to melt down the front of my face. And my sinuses spread throughout my entire head.
You see, despite my Man Who Came to Dinnerhood, I'm actually a bit of a sushi novice. (Maybe someone would like to invite me over for a crash course?) "What was that stuff?" I whispered painfully to Sheridan.
"Wasabi," she said, noticing the bright red circles around my eyes. "Oh my God, I'm sorry. You didn't eat all of that, did you?"
Once the smoke had cleared we began to make our way toward the main event, a full vegan buffet. On our way however we ran smack into Peter Drekmeier -- the Man Tree.
Oh boy. Go time.
I strategically chose a leaf for its maximum distance from any skin, one situated at a safe remove from Peter's significantly hairy chest. (Hey, I know. I share similar attributes. But I'm not asking anyone to eat off my back.) Sheridan and I scooped up some sesame noodles. Quite delicious, actually. "Organic kale," explained Peter. "From a friend's garden." We each had a second helping of Peter.
Uh, let me rephrase that.
One more kale taco -- "Thanks, Peter, for the snack" -- and off we headed to the buffet. Afterward, we made our way out front to listen to an acoustic guitar team and enjoy our meals. Our plates contained a variety of vegan delights, including Wildwood Jerk Tofu, which I amazed myself by enjoying so much. We also had piles of PC Brown Rice, roasted rosemary veggies from the Bay Area Action garden, zucchini jalapeño mint relish, and an organic green salad in a peanuty "Goddess" dressing.
A 10-foot-tall man dressed in multicolored lights emerged from the garage and strolled right past us. He was on stilts and was followed by a troupe of equally electric friends. We trailed him down the street to the intersection to watch Earth Circus do its thing.
Earth Circus is a true multimedia performance group, with its roots in environmental education. Each of the performer's outfits was covered in bright luminescent tubing, which flickered in elaborate microprocessor-run patterns. In addition to the stilt guy there was a glowing bagpipe player, a glowing dancer in big fat heels, an MC with a boombox and an electric rainbow goblet, and, most impressively, an enormous electric butterfly steered from behind by a man on rollerblades.
The audience watched as the team danced to the music. The butterfly cruised way off down the street, made big U-turns, and came flying back at us through the night air. The crowd cheered and hollered and clapped with delight.
The neighbors, I imagine, hated us.
After the show we headed back to the house to finish the night off with two fun-filled desserts. In one corner of the room was a table covered with chocolate tarts and a host of colorful sauces and toppings to allow you to decorate your own dessert. Sheridan and I took a special liking to the pomegranate seeds, the lemon meringue, and the edible glitter. But in the center of the room two men with padded gloves on their hands were cooking up some- thing even more interesting: liquid nitrogen ice cream.
From inside a big ice cooler emerged a milk jug filled with a dark brown liquid, which one man poured into a giant metal bowl. Next, out came an eerie-looking container with valves and knobs and vapors spewing from its mouth. "This is performance ice cream," one of the men announced, as he tipped the liquid nitrogen tank into the bowl. "For our first flavor this evening, we'll be doing chocolate. Minus 107 degrees Fahrenheit."
Vapor poured over the rim of the bowl and down the sides of the table to the floor. With a big wooden spoon, the other man stirred the concoction into a big lumpy soup. A few more injections of the nitrogen -- and voilá! Ice cream.
Those crazy vegetarians.
We stuck around for one more batch -- chocolate chip -- before slipping off into the night. "Well, Sheridan," I said, "I suppose if vegetarians have this much fun, then maybe it's time I ... nah, never mind."
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