I am a vegetarian for ethical and health reasons more than I am a vegetarian because I hate meat. Ecological problems, antibiotics and diseases, prions and shit lakes and clipping the tails off of piglets. etc. So I don’t eat meat (except for the occasional ‘happy cow’ steak, grass-fed, grass-finished, and always too well-done). But I still crave certain foods, and one of these foods is the BLT.

I’ve been experimenting every so often, looking for good bacon analogues  — not for the premise of actual bacon, but just for BLTs. (I don’t think any of these could stand up to close scrutiny without the extra elements.) The first thing that I tried was frying those tofurkey sandwich slices, with heavy seasoning. Not so great. The texture was far too even — think, if cardboard could go stale, what that would feel like to eat. The flavor wasn’t much more than a hint of ‘seasonings.’ (If I can remember, I think it went harmlessly into some otherwise-tasty scrambled eggs eaten at a friend’s house in Illinois.)

I’ve also tried slicing up and frying those Smart Hot Dogs; when I was a kid and we didn’t have bacon I would sometimes fry baloney instead. (N.B.: this actually nearly always turned out pretty gross.) The hot dogs turned out approximately the same as the fried tofurkey slices, except longer and narrower. They tasted a little more like “meat” — smokier and saltier even without heavy seasoning. Heavy seasoning just made it taste like garlic salt. (Could be operator error.)

And don’t make me laugh with your questions about the “fake-on” one can buy in the refrigerated hippie section in your community’s grocery store. I am for the most part an exuberant fan of the Morningstar Brand of fake meats for hippies; I think they are mostly the best quality of processed meat replacements on the market. However, their bacon strips are seriously the worst thing ever. Strips of microwavable salty cardboard. You can’t put those in a BLT. That would be sheer desecration.

So here’s what I did tonight and now whole-heartedly endorse: frying up thin strips of seitan.

Seitan is basically magic. It’s textured wheat gluten, and the first time I encountered it was in a vegan Asian restaurant in Boston, where I was almost convinced that what I was eating was meat. It’s best at mimicking the texture of beef and chicken, although I had a faux-duck sandwich once that was pretty incredible. I have no idea what gives it this texture, but it is similar enough that even carnivores enjoy it. (I fried up some tofu and seitan to go with a peanut satay I made a while ago, and it was one of the only experiments my father rated ‘delicious’ rather than merely ‘interesting.’)

So what you do. Is take the stuff out of the package. I bought the stuff that claims to be in “strips,” but the box lies to you: it’s mostly mashed up in “bits.” Place the bits that are most like strips onto a plate, and salt them on both sides. I used this seasoning spice that’s basically garlic powder, pepper, and salt, but I think all that’s really important from a make-this-like-bacon standpoint is the salt. Heat up some vegetable oil; fry. Place on toast with mayonnaise, tomato slices, and lettuce. Add other stuff if you’re into adulterating a pure BLT. And then give me your address so I can burn you at the stake, you heretic. (I considered both avocado and goat cheese. Could be pretty tasty.) Voilà. It’s not perfect, but it’s closer to the real thing than I’ve had in years.

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(originally written for Space Zine, and dedicated to Elizabeth Sladen)

 

I can’t say there are a lot of times I would turn down watching Doctor Who, but I do know that there are times I am drawn to it like a low-down sad and cynical moth to a dopey British sci fi flame. We’re all bombarded every day by all the horrible stuff that we do to each other, and tt’s nice to get a little relief. Doctor Who’s portrayal of humanity is optimistic, the kind of faith in the human spirit that makes you sit up a little and say, “Yeah! People are all right!” The Doctor sees and respects the strength of the human spirit. We may not be all that bright – he thinks of the human race as essentially childlike – but despite our shortcomings humanity reaches the stars and keeps pushing. Humans survive the death of the sun. Humans are the last race left when the universe ends. Humans, as the Doctor says over and over again, are “brilliant.”

Doctor Who doesn’t try to sell its audience an overly idealistic view of us Earthlings, however. There is no utopian Star Trek society, no united planet best friends with all the Nice Aliens. Doctor Who exposes our savagery, selfishness, and greed. It might have been individuals who enslaved the Ood hivebrain and captured the space whale for Starship Britain, but it was humans in the aggregate who bought the Ood and used them as slaves without asking questions; it was Future British Society who voted to keep torturing the space whale so the ship would continue its flight. It was human curiosity that opened the door for the Cybermen’s invasion of London, and it was human greed that invited the Sontarans to turn the Earth into a breeding ground.

But Doctor Who suggests that humans can be more than that. That message is the primary difference between Doctor Who and its rated-R spinoff, Torchwood. What makes Torchwood for adults and Doctor Who for kids isn’t the sex or the grittier (if not necessarily smaller!) death toll, but its cynicism. Torchwood – a secret organization defending against aliens led by a former companion of the Doctor – doesn’t believe in the innate goodness of humanity. The problems facing the Torchwood team are just as often directly caused by humans as they are alien – back-country Welsh cannibals; the British government giving children to interstellar drug dealers and then killing people to cover it up. Even the members of Torchwood are not exempt: Suzie, who kills people to see how the Resurrection Glove worked; Owen, with his date-rape spray; even Jack himself. Sure, Jack Harkness and crew tend to save the day more often than not. But teammates stay dead, and people are still shitty.

Unlike Torchwood, Doctor Who gives humanity the opportunity to redeem itself. People get invested in him because he sees the best in them, and leaves them with the compulsion to prove him right. Harriet Jones, Prime Minister, shoots a nonthreatening spaceship out of the sky, and the Doctor, in anger, ruins her political career. Several seasons later, she sacrifices herself to bring him to Earth. Captain Jack Harkness goes from time-traveling con man and professional cynic to the kind of man who takes a detonating bomb aboard his ship and later leads a suicide mission against the Daleks. The Doctor makes people want to be better.

Humanity – in the form of his traveling companions – also acts as a redeeming force on the Doctor himself. The Doctor has a pronounced dark side. He does things in the name of his moral code that he finds personally repugnant. In the revived series, the Doctor is the last of his kind. Before the series began, the cataclysmic Time War between the Daleks and the Time Lords (of which he is one) threatened to spill out and annihilate the universe, and forced the Doctor to destroy both races. He starts the series a broken man, wracked by the guilt of genocide. Rose Tyler travels with him, humanizes him, and allows him to love. (Twice, actually – it’s complicated.) Another companion, Donna, pulls him away from drowning while he stood and vengefully watched the Racnoss young die. “Promise me you’ll find someone,” she said. “I think you need someone to stop you.” His quest for what’s right often brings him close to the edge of destruction. You can’t travel alone for centuries without losing yourself. The Doctor’s companions have proven time and again to be crucial to his survival.

These themes – the earnestness, the optimism, the importance of friendship – can run towards cheesy, but the notorious cheesiness of Doctor Who is more a result of budgetary constraints on special effects. (Which can really be kind of endearing.) Even when it does get cheesy, when the former companions call the Doctor to Earth Captain Planet-style and it turns out that the reason the TARDIS flies all shitty is because it needs six pilots and they tow the Earth back to our solar system with face-splitting grins and swelling music and nary a hitch – well, at that point you’re so invested in the characters you don’t hardly give a damn.

Our culture is a pretty cynical one, and I would guess that I am more cynical than most. Doctor Who challenges my pessimism with a worldview that allows for darkness, for death, for shittiness, but that is, in the end, positive. Things will turn out okay.

When you think of sex in science fiction and fantasy (also called ‘speculative fiction,’ although mostly by the hopelessly pretentious, and hereafter referred to as SF) no doubt your mind travels, as mine once did, to pointy-eared pneumatic babes in leopard-skin bikinis or tiny space suits. SF has traditionally been the purview of sweaty adolescent boys with imaginations proportionate to the breasts on Conan the Barbarian’s lady friends. Their fantasies were encouraged by authors of the same ilk, a little older but no less sweaty.

This is no longer the case. The advent of women and queer and like-minded writers meant that contemporary SF became much more complicated than in the old days. An important thing about speculative fiction is that it can be whatever you want it to be. And writing about aliens and elves is a great way to write about human sex and sexuality and gender under the radar.

Remember the first interracial kiss on television? That’s right – it was Star Trek.

One of my favorite SF books from high school revolved around the relationship of the main character (male, humanoid alien) with another male alien the approximate equivalent of a large, sentient snake. They were persecuted for their inter-species love – but they were soulmates! And so it was good and right that they should be together. (And of course they were in the end.)

Trafalmadorians have five different sexes (and claim that humans have seven.) Neil Gaiman wrote a short story about a cure for cancer-turned party drug: Reboot, which changes the patient’s physical sex. One of science fiction’s Greats, Robert Heinlein, wrote a time-traveling hermaphrodite story where the protagonist turns out to be both his mother and his father.

Not to mention it seems like everyone from elf princesses to tentacle aliens is into some pretty explicit kinky sex, at least according to the books I read as a kid.

SF offers more to awkward adolescents of both genders than just escapism. The genre presents a way of looking at the world that includes alternate gender identities and sexualities, far beyond their parents’ procreative sex, white picket fence, and two and a half kids.

And that’s a good thing.

(So give your kids Harry Potter and Ursula K. Le Guin; but once they start buying their own books you should probably knock on their bedroom door before entering.)

Every so often, I’ll read articles like Salon’s The Mother of all Tea Party Triumphs? and have a quiet little giggle as lines like this catch my eye:

O’Donnell, previously known only for waging a series of hopeless, quixotic campaigns, has caught fire in the last few weeks, thanks largely to the Tea Party Express, which has poured money into the state on her behalf, and to a late endorsement from Sarah Palin. [emphasis mine]

All I can imagine is that the entire past two years have been Palin constructing an elaborate and hilarious plot to transform the Republican Party into a pile of reactionary absurdism. I see her sitting in a log cabin in Wasilla, cackling to herself and rubbing her hands together (half maniacally, half because I assume it’s always balls cold in Alaska) at every GOP primary where her Mr/s Anglo-Saxon Christian Crazy wins now but will get resoundingly defeated in general elections come November. The best kind of agent provocateur.

Sometimes (just sometimes), the fact that she’s most likely not doing it on purpose makes it even funnier.

Having lost any sort of drive for productivity and switched my ‘ability to think’ for ‘being sweaty,’ I would nevertheless like to apologize for the recent dearth of posts on this blog. I will try to find someplace with air conditioning and do some actual real writing, but I can’t make any promises.

One of the things that I will miss most about this city when I move to DC is the downtown. I love downtown Boston. I grew up less than a mile away from the Detroit River, which for all of its gross chemical wastes and frequent dead bodies is still a significant body of water. Living in Boston means that whenever I’m in need of some kind of peace of mind I can take the train up (and east) to the harbor and listen to the surf crash against the rocks and piers, and watch the boats go in and out. I have no idea how I managed to live in the middle of Ohio for four fucking years. I grew up less than a mile away from water; when I wanted to smoke cigarettes where my parents wouldn’t know I would hang out at the river’s rocky beaches. Whenever I visited my grandparents in Cleveland I went to the Lake Erie beach, which was also only about a mile away.

There’s a river in the heart of DC, the Potomac, so I won’t be totally bereft of water in general. In fact, I’m more comfortable with rivers than oceans — the Boston Harbor actually makes me feel better than Lake Erie because I’m used to seeing the other side. So it’s not the water, necessarily, that I will miss, although I haven’t been to the Potomac so I don’t know shit and can’t say anything specific about that.

Like I said, though, I love Boston’s downtown. I love the brick streets, I love the old houses, I love the stupid old squares that look like they’re straight out of Europe and don’t have any street signs — even when I’m on my bike! it’s quaint, it’s dumb, and I love it. I do, however, hate the people who live here — fuck all Massholes — but I love this city. It makes living here with few friends not that abominable. Today, for example, I went downtown. I wandered around Beacon Hill – beautiful – to check out the Afro-American History Museum (forgettable, but that’s an entirely different conversation). Then I went on the harbor walk — which, I might add, sucks that I’ve been avoiding the Aquarium area in order to explicitly not run into the sailor who has yet to call me back. But again, that’s another conversation altogether.

What I’m mostly saying, though, is that I wish Boston weren’t so very much populated by douchebags, because otherwise I would never want to leave this stupid city. Not that, mind you, I’m expecting DC to have fewer douchebags, because that would just be naive. I’m worried, though, that DC isn’t going to have the kind of city center that allows one to wander around alone and enjoy the sights — historical and otherwise — that make living there with only one or two friends kind of okay. I love how fucking tiny and walkable and historical Boston is.

On the other hand, I’m looking forward to the adventure of moving to another entirely new place with another (almost-new) friend. I think this new roommate will honestly work better than my old one, because no matter how much M is my very best friend, living with her boyfriend strained our relationship in a lot of ways. So fucking yeah, Washington DC, the next step in my wherever-the-wind-blows-me post-graduate life, I guess.

So for a while this year Tuesdays were the one day a week I looked forward to. A) I didn’t work; B) it was my day to hang out in Cambridge with Sam; C) that’s the day the Savage Lovecast comes out. Yeah, the Thai place across the street is closed on Tuesdays, which sucks when I’m not broke and there’s no food in the house, but when I’m not broke on a Tuesday and there’s no food it’s because I have to pay rent soon, so I can’t afford Thai food anyway. The dollar-slice pizza place is always open, a slice of pizza is a meal and I can get that for a dollar. (Don’t tell my mother.) Also ramen is 65 cents and a decent meal, although it’s difficult to find the mushroom-flavored kind instead of the meat-flavored. Being a broke vegetarian sucks.

What I’m saying, though, is that I’ve discovered a new day that makes me happy about days: Saturday. This means that I am happy about days once every three/four days instead of once every seven. (Although Thursdays are good, too, because Thursdays are Fringe. So maybe that counts. Plus I always have money on Thursday, and the Thai place is open. So maybe I feel all right about Thursdays.)

But what I am saying is that I am more than all right about Saturdays. I am downright excited about Saturday these days. Saturday is when Doctor Who is on. It may be on BBC and not accessible to American viewership; I may have to work on Saturday instead of hanging out with my friends or my roommates; I may have to delve into the seedy underbelly of the internet to find the episode while I drink wine alone in my room while my roommates are asleep. But fuck if I don’t watch Doctor Who every god damned Saturday night.

Next week’s episode features the stone angels from Blink. I was going to rewatch that episode tonight, until I realized that it was five in the morning and that episode makes me pee my pants every time I watch it, it’s so scary. Fuck yeah Saturdays.