Tuesday, July 28, 2015

For the Omnivores, an excerpt from Pig Tales

I'm sorry I haven't posted a recipe in forever. We've been eating the old-fashioned way, heavy on resourcefulness and fresh veggies, light on recipes and oven-use. Our home is a little warm by modern standards and we don't yet own a grill, so we end up eating a lot of salads and sandwiches and rustic hodgepodge cheese-plate-ish meals in the summer. We also take more than our fair share's advantage of restaurant patios.

What brings me to post today was something I couldn't not share, ASAP: powerful prose I encountered this morning from food journalist Barry Estabrook's latest book, Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat. There are loads of positive and hopeful bits in the book and Estabrook's tone, weight of his topic notwithstanding, is light, inviting, and often humorous. He loves pigs! I have opted to share a darker, gruesome excerpt, however, because sometimes it's important to face the facts, especially when we choose to eat meat in an era when we have alternatives.

More than 100 million hogs are raised in the United States each year, 97 percent of them on factory farms. Four huge conglomerates, Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods, JBS USA, and Excel Fresh Meats, process two-thirds of all hogs in this country. Those pigs are crowded in pens on hard slatted floors that allow their excrement to fall into pits directly below their feet, where it stays for up to a year reeking and emanating poisonous gasses that would kill the animals should the barns' ventilation fans fail. Even though a single pig operation generates as much waste as a small city, farmers are not required to treat it. Instead, they can and do spray it directly onto fields where it can be washed by rain into waterways.

Pregnant female pigs live their entire lives on top of their own feces and urine in individual crates that are too small for them to turn around in. Rubbing against the crates' steel bars causes gaping, raw wounds. Piglets have their teeth pulled, their tails amputated, and their testicles removed without anesthesia. To survive in such an unhealthy environment, pigs are fed a steady diet of low-dose antibiotics, a practice that leads to the evolution of drug-resistant 'superbugs' that sicken and kill thousands of humans each year. Even when medicated, factory hogs are notoriously vulnerable to epidemic diseases that sweep the industry once or twice a decade. One such illness, a porcine diarrhea virus, was first detected in the United States in May 2013. Within a year, it had killed more than 7 million American piglets.

Industrial pigs are not even guaranteed a humane death. Some modern mechanized slaughterhouses can kill and pack more than 30,000 pigs in a single day on vast 'disassembly' lines. According to on-site investigations conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture's Office of the Inspector General, many of those animals are still alive and sentient when their throats are cut and they are dipped, struggling and kicking, into tanks of scalding water. USDA inspectors who report such abuses can find themselves disciplined or transferred to less desirable jobs. The pigs are killed and butchered by workers whose earnings have dropped by 40 percent since the 1980s. Once no more dangerous than the average manufacturing job, meat-packing has become more hazardous than working in construction, manufacturing, and even mining.

So what's an omnivore to do? I haven't figured that out for myself yet, although this week I'm 200% vegetarian. You should read the book. And in the meantime, think before you eat the bacon! Especially if the bacon is from a restaurant or conventional grocery store (though Whole Foods and other health food retailers are by no means immune from selling products at odds with their perceived message of sustainability, humaneness, et cetera). Beeler's, at least insomuch as the Wedge co-op assures me, sources all its pork from independent farms in Iowa and states that "no antibiotics, growth promotants of any kind, nor injections of vaccines or vermifuges, chemicals used for treatment of parasites, are ever used" in its products. I cannot find any information that speaks to the humaneness of their practices. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Learning as You Go + Dine Out for Life!

This article from The Kitchn describes a bunch of things that an author learned about cooking while writing cookbooks. I found it wildly relatable. I have learned the exact same things while teaching and developing recipes for this blog. Short, interesting, and worth a read. 

Don't forget to Dine Out for Life today! Beckett and I joined some neighbors for lunch at The Lowbrow. Super good. Super family friendly. Children are each given an etch-a-sketch along with their kid's menu.

Happy Thursday, friends. I hope you're enjoying some sunshine. 


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lost and Gained on the Whole30

Well, my friends, it is time for me to share with you what I lost and gained on the Whole30. I'm going the list route because I'm still processing a ton. I think, given where I'm at, prose would end up loaded with v. unhelpful emotion, confusion, and judgment. Maybe someday.

Vastly improved meal planning skills
An improved (but by no means less complicated) relationship with food
About an hour more sleep per night
Knowledge: dairy and alcohol are not my best friends; legumes and grains aren't my worst enemies; almonds (the only tree nuts "safe" for me) cause or exacerbate eczema
Love of ghee
Demonstrated aversion to chicken livers
Healthy suspicion of all foods that go down a bit too easily (e.g. smoothies, nut butters, cookies)

Acceptance of food-as-reward
Cream in my coffee
My sugar dragon
Cheese addiction
Nightly glass(es) of wine
Skin ailments
A gazillion dollars, mostly spent on "healthy fats" and meat counter splurges
5 pounds
3 inches of waist
1 inch per thigh
1.2% body fat

There were other losses and gains that I feel are too personal to share on my public website which is, at its heart, a food blog and thus meant to be above all else appetizing. If you are interested in the nitty-gritty and/or are contemplating taking on a Whole30 challenge yourself at some point, email me and I'm happy to privately share my more detailed experience.

I have never felt lighter, leaner, evener, or more pain-free than I felt between days 8 and 32 of the Whole30. I was v. afraid of food coming out of the challenge and, according to the creators of the program, that meant I needed to ride my own bike and figure out what was next for me. I was also aching to eat something with a texture - while smells stopped enticing me somewhere around week 2 of my W30, when I made a sandwich for my children with MC's fresh bread, or when I saw someone eating a cracker, I really craved the chew, crumb, and crunch of foods that aren't meat, eggs, and vegetables.

I gradually eased forbidden foods back into my diet in the following order: alcohol (priorities!), legumes, dairy, gluten-free grains, grains. Sugar was kind of randomly in there, but no sweets until about Day 40. Every one of these foods made me feel immediately different (less great). The real kickers, however, have been alcohol and dairy. I feel fine when and immediately after eating them but the next morning I am a puffy, congested mess. They really are inflammatory foods. No joke.

Are they worth it nonetheless? Sometimes. Date night with MC was super fun. Rincon 38's fried manchego and red wine were delightful indulgences. Is one day of bags under my eyes, too-tight rings, and a fleeting but intimate relationship with my neti pot too harrowing a consequence for such hedonism? I don't think so. There is such pleasure to be derived from food and wine. What I've taken away from my W30 experience, however, is that food is not only meant for pleasure. It is meant, most importantly, for health and sustenance. And the foods that offer the most pleasure, at least for me, are the least healthy and sustaining. I hope that, as my food journey continues, I'll land somewhere that prioritizes healthy eating most of the time (like, really most of the time, i.e. 95% or more), and reserves indulgences to special occasions. Sounds so balanced and normal, right? But I'm not there yet. For one thing, my definitions of both "indulgence" and "special occasion" will have to be much broader than they used to be, back when I had cream in my coffee every morning and a glass of wine every evening. I thought those were okay since I ate healthy meals. I'd see other children's lunches at school, feel smugly chuffed about how comparatively nourishing my own children's lunches were, and then decide we all deserved a puppy dog tail from Isles Buns because - well of course! - it's Friday!

So I've changed. I think differently about food. I want food in different ways and a don't want food nearly as much as I used to. I could write a book about it but (1) it already exists, and (2) I am trying to mince my words here and unpack just the information I would have found useful when I was blog-researching two months ago.

This is kind of important: I've been vacationing for the last five days. I've had paleo-ish breakfasts most days, I've avoided cheese and milk 4 out of 5 days (but holy crap I almost died of cheese on that fifth day!), but otherwise I've basically spent the last 72 hours eating and walking my way through Portland. Like, I've eaten six pastries in half as many days. (Or, at least portions of them. The new E-NC can eat a bite of a doughnut and be satisfied. Whaaaaattt?!?) So, even eating out, snacking, drinking - less freely than I've done historically, but still opting for pleasure over sustenance - I find my W30-defined baseline is a great place to veer from. I bounce back quicker after eating crap than I did before the Whole30. I can see why people use the program as a "re-set" option every few months or years or whatever. I will probably do the same.

In the meantime, though, I'm still not sure what meals will look like in the long run. I'm for sure reducing the amount of dairy I consume and will probably treat cheese as a rare treat. Alcohol as well. I am hoping to reintroduce legumes into our family's meals as a protein main as opposed to the amount of meat to which we've grown accustomed for the last several weeks. (SO. FLIPPING. EXPENSIVE.) And grains are a bit of a conundrum to me right now. I tolerate them well but don't know where they will fit in. As a substitute for nutrient-dense vegetables? As a filler? Obviously, I am still figuring all this out! I am about to get on an airplane though and one of my goals on this vacation was getting a proper W30 update on the blog. So here you go. I hope it was illuminating in some ways. Please let me know if you have any questions.

xoxox (p.s. I haven't proofread this!)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Date-Sweetened Butternut Squash-Apple Compote (and "How to Whole30-ify a Recipe")

Hiya friends. I meant to share this recipe in the thick of things but, well, it. was. thick. For me, at least during my first go at a Whole30, it was hard to keep up with food prep, document my journey on the blog, and share recipe-centered posts showcasing some of the gems I got to enjoy during the challenge. Here's my attempt at catch-up. I hope you'll make both the pork tenderloins and the compote - whether you're doing a Whole30 or just trying to avoid dumping a bunch of brown sugar into your dinner! THIS WAS MY BEST MEAL DURING THE ENTIRE 30 DAYS. (I can't help yelling! It's such a big deal!)

And now...

How to Whole30-ify a Recipe!

Step 1. Stick with recipes that are close to paleo. In a conventional cookbook, this step will v. likely limit you to the soups, salads, vegetable sides, and entree sections. Convenient, since those are the things you are eating on the Whole30.

Let's go through an example, shall we? A couple weeks ago I checked out from the library Ina Garten's delightful newish cookbook, Make It Ahead. It's great. I want it for keeps. Ina's an unexpectedly good resource for paleo recipes because, not only does she embrace meat and fish of all sorts, but also her overall approach emphasizes simplicity and quality. Simplicity + quality usually means you don't need a lot of ingredients. The fewer ingredients in a recipe, the easier it is to modify, and the more likely the recipe's integrity won't be compromised when you omit or swap around.

Skimming through Make It Ahead, drooling discreetly all the while, I concluded the following: with little or minimal alteration, no fewer than four starters, three lunch items, seven entrees, and seven vegetable sides could be made W30 compliant. The recipe that I kept going back to was the Herbed Pork Tenderloins with Apple Chutney. Pork tenderloins are wrapped in prosciutto (double protein! but more importantly, yum!) and 100% W30 compliant, no modifications required. The chutney, however, was another story: ten ingredients, including an off-limits cup of brown sugar, a cup of orange juice, and a bunch of dried fruit. I knew it was going to be hard to adjust, and perhaps not worth it. The pork would no doubt be delicious on its own (this was later confirmed), but some sort of compote or chutney sounded so good...

Step 2. Think outside the box. If a recipe doesn't really fit into the paleo framework, think about what it is you specifically like about that recipe and then consider what else might do the trick. 

What would be good instead of an apple chutney? An herbed salsa of some sort? Magic green sauce? I really want something sweet and spicy. Wait a minute! A memory is triggered! In another much more decidedly non-paleo cookbook I have and love - Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain - there is a butternut squash compote recipe. I made it once and I don't recall it being overly sweet so maybe there's no sugar in it. Was it pears in it or apple? Let's check! (We're checking now. Dance break.) Got it: butter, squash, salt, apples, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar. Six ingredients (including salt). Only a quarter of the amount of refined sugar in Ina's recipe is called for, plus there's less fruit sugar, since the compote is equal parts squash and apple. This is totally workable. So let's get to work.

Step 3. Omit and substitute. To do this, you need to consider what the function of each ingredient is and decide whether to entirely omit or come up with an alternative if necessary.

W30 protocol forbids sugar and dairy other than ghee. First switch is to substitute ghee for butter, tablespoon for tablespoon. We also have to omit the brown sugar. In the compote recipe, what's the function of the brown sugar? Obviously, it's to make the compote sweet. Solution: substitute chopped dates. They are delicious, super sweet, and will pair nicely with butternut squash and apples. (Another decent but less delectable option would be unsweetened applesauce, permitted during W30.)


Note: you might realize once you get going that there are additional, less obvious functions served by an ingredient. In the case of the compote, it became clear that the brown sugar was going to help caramelize everything and provide a lot of moisture to the compote - it was going to become liquid itself as it melted, and then it would draw out more juices from the fruit (a la strawberries + sugar when you make strawberry shortcake topping). Solution: water. Easy peasy lemon squeezy (as my kindergartener would say).

Step 4. Give it a go!

I did. And it was crazy good. The only change I'll make next time will be to double the recipe.

Date-Sweetened Butternut Squash and Apple Compote

2 tablespoons ghee
~2 cups peeled, 1/2"-diced butternut (or other winter) squash (10 oz)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-to 3/4-inch pieces
20 pitted deglet dates or 12-15 pitted medjool dates, diced
~1 cup water
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Melt the ghee in a 12-inch skillet over a medium-high flame.

Add one piece of butternut squash to the pan and see if it sizzles. If it doesn't, give the pot another minute to heat up. Once hot, add the rest of the squash and salt to the pan and toss to coat with the ghee. Cook the squash for 3 minutes without stirring or moving the pan.

Toss the squash and cook for 3 minutes more, again without stirring or moving the pan. The squash should be browning on the edges.

Add the apples and dates to the pan and toss to coat in ghee for a minute. Reduce heat to low-medium (this is important especially because we are ditching the brown sugar - cooking apples over a low flame will draw out their natural sugars more effectively (think caramelized onions)). Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the apples and squash begin turning translucent. Add water, 1/4 cup at a time, if pan gets dry or the compote starts to brown quickly or stick to the pan. Increase the flame to medium and cook for about 20 minutes, tossing every 2 minutes, continuing to add water in 1/4-cup portions, until the apples and squash are dark and caramelized and the mixture is thick. Off the heat, stir in the apple cider vinegar (or a squeeze of lemon juice). Compote is best warm, straight from the pan or reheated in the microwave for a bit. It keeps well for a week but it probably won't last more than a day in your refrigerator.