Friday, July 23, 2010

Foodie Book Club: The Butcher and the Vegetarian


The Butcher and the Vegetarian by Tara Austen Weaver was the June selection for the Foodie Book Club (Yes, June. Excuse the lateness.)

I absolutely loved this book. Weaver, a vegetarian, explores the world of meat after struggling with health problems and a few doctors suggesting she tries to eat more meat. She details her journey exploring questions like should we eat meat and if so, from where? Commercial feedlots? Sustainable, local, organic farms? How can you tell if your meat is produced 'right'? Will meat really make her feel better?

I have personally thought about these questions over and over again. I've read several books on the subject, but coming up with an answer is difficult. I am not and have never been a vegetarian, but when I was a kid, I'd almost always pass on meat, unless it was chicken fingers, bacon, or a cheeseburger. Meat on the bone? Roasted pork loin? Turkey on Thanksgiving? No, thank you. It grossed me out. I never even ate steak until I was eighteen.

Do I think it is wrong to eat meat? The answer is not as simple as yes or no. I do believe we are omnivores, with bodies meant to eat both meat and plants. However, I think eating the majority of meat that is produced in this country is wrong and the amounts in which we eat it are even worse. I have a huge problem with CAFOs and the pollution they produce, causing both the animals and humans around them to get sick. I think its wrong to keep tens of thousands of chickens crammed in hen house where each animal can barely move around. I think its wrong that we have bred animals that are so large they cannot walk more than a few steps or even reproduce naturally. But pastured cows and chickens raised on local farms? That is something I can support (as with George the chicken from my last post).

Critics say that there is no way to produce enough meat to feed the country, let alone the world, on a pastured based system. And they are probably right. But guess what? People do not need to eat meat at every meal, let alone every day. For both environmental and health reasons, this country would do a lot better for itself if it incorporated more plants into its diet. You may notice from the recipes I post here are almost all vegetarian and that is how I usually eat. I'm not perfect, but I try not eat meat at restaurants unless they are restaurants I trust. Luckily Minneapolis has plenty of restaurants with local, organic, and sustainable values (my favorites include Restaurant Alma, Common Roots Cafe, Lucia's, Brasa, and the Birchwood Cafe). If I want to prepare meat at home, I buy it from the Farmers Market or a natural foods co-op. Yes, it is more expensive to buy meat that way, but I buy it so rarely I am willing to pay the extra price. The meat that comes from a commercial feedlot is not as cheap as the price tag might indicate, its costs are externalized to subsidies, health bills, etc. There is really no such thing as cheap meat.

But anyway, I'll stop with my food beliefs and go back to the book. It was a great read, I finished it over the course of two days. It was great to read along as Weaver researched and discussed all the issues surrounding meat that I have thought of myself. There were times I cringed (like the story of the cow from a commercial feedlot that wouldn't compost...gross!) . I also related to her discussion of how to deal with eating at other people's houses. This is something I've struggled with as well. I can't really say that I'm a vegetarian, but how to explain to someone that "Yes, I eat meat, but only some meat and that meat you are serving just isn't good enough for me" and not sound like a uppity bitch? You just can't.

At the end of the book, Weaver commits herself to two-week long experiments: one week of eating meat 3 times a day and one week going totally raw. The meat week leaves her feeling gross and dreading meals. She decided to go raw for a week as a sort of detox and the first few days she says she was always hungry, but the food wasn't bad at all...and then a few days later? She starts to feel better. Energized. She realizes that for the first time in years, she isn't exhausted all the time. It's the raw diet that ends up working for her. I found myself almost laughing at the end, reading the whole book about meat to leave with her becoming a semi-raw foodist. She says it probably isn't for everybody, but that is what works for her and she finally figured it out.

The one thing I didn't really like is the fact that the title and the cover illustration led me to believe there was a love story involved, that she would eventually marry a butcher or something like that. Every time she talked about some meat loving man (like Biggles who writes a meat blog), I kept waiting for the romance, but it never came. I'm not saying there needed to be a romance, but I found that to be a little misleading and distracting. Also, the book jacket mentions a butcher daring her to eat her way through the meat counter, so I also was expecting her to try everything at the butcher and go through it piece by piece. I did enjoy the book, but these bits were a little misleading and not everyone who takes a quick glance at it might end up satisfied.

Titles and false expectations aside, the book inspired me to get in the kitchen twice. The first time I made flank steak with the chimichurri sauce she mentions so often. I would have posted that recipe here, but I almost burned the house down when I made it, not realizing there were some plastic pieces on my new roasting pan (why? I have no idea, but I didn't see them and remove them before broiling the steak the house filled with smoke). But it was delicious. After finishing the book, I was intrigued by the raw kale salad she mentions at the end. I have heard that kale can be eaten raw and is quite good if you massage it with salt until it wilts, but I never mustered up the courage to do so (as Weaver says, it sounds too "aggressively healthy" to be good). I was surprised how good it ended up being. I know it sounds scary, but try it! It's actually quite delicious.

Raw Kale Salad

Raw Kale Salad
From Tara Austen Weaver's site

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp flax oil (I don't have any so I used walnut. I'm sure you could also double the olive oil instead.)
1 tbsp light miso
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp mustard powder
1 clove garlic, crushed or chopped
cayenne pepper to taste

Whisk all the ingredients together until combined.


About 3 leaves kale, with stems removed and cut into ribbons
1 cup cabbage, shredded
1/2 avocado
sea salt
1 tbsp red onion, chopped
1 tbsp jalopeno, chopped (optional)

Sprinkle the sea salt onto the kale and massage in until slightly wilted.

Raw Kale Salad

Toss with the other ingredients, add dressing, and eat!

Raw Kale Salad

Raw Kale Salad

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken (Part One)

(Note: Vegetarians and Vegans, beware. This post is full of dead chicken.)

How Alex and I spent our Saturday Night:

Chicken Prep

Meet George. He is our chicken. He is sassy and speaks with a French accent. He used to live in Mankato at Prairie Pride Farm where he spent his days in clover pastures, eating clover, alfalfa, oats, grasses, non-GMO corn, and bugs and being a chicken. Now, he is in my fridge, soon to become roasted, Zuni Cafe style.

Chicken Prep

We removed his organs. We (well, Alex) chopped off his neck. Then we gave him a bath and patted him very, very dry.

Drying the Chicken

Then we stuck our fingers between his skin and breasts and gave him herbal implants of sage, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary.

Giving the Chicken Herb Implants

We did the same to his thighs.

Then we rubbed him down with salt. Lots of salt. And some pepper. We even put some inside his cavity. Just a little. Not too much.

Chicken Post-Op

And now he sits in the fridge for two whole days before he is dinner.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Strawberry Banana Soft Serve

Strawberry Banana Soft Serve

If you are into vegan or raw foods, or even if you're not and you just read a lot of food blogs, you may have come across this post about making raw vegan "ice cream" by simply sticking a frozen banana or two in the food processor. I tried it several weeks ago and it's true! It is the perfect substitution if you don't eat dairy. Don't get me wrong, I still love the real stuff, but this is a perfect healthy (and cheaper!) alternative for when it is so hot you want to eat ice cream every. single. day. And a great way give brown bananas a new life.

Since I started making this myself, both Ashley at (never home)maker and Ashley at The Edible Perspective have posted some variations, including adding things in like cherries, peanut butter, and cookies.

Today I was inspired to try something new. As I as putting my bag of frozen bananas back in the freezer, I saw my GIANT bag of frozen local strawberries I have been adding to as strawberry season comes to a close. I grabbed a small handful, threw them in, and voila: PINK soft serve. The perfect thing to cheer you up when you have unexpected, last minute wedding-planning chaos. Even more perfect if you eat it with a brownie!

Strawberry Banana Soft Serve

1.5 frozen bananas
About 1/4 cup frozen strawberries (I'm guessing fresh would work too)

Put ingredients in food processor until texture is ice cream like. Yup. That's it.

Makes 1 large serving.