Category Archives: Cooking

Magical Thinking

Here was today.

It snowed and sleeted in Indy, but not so much that I missed my routine weekly doctor’s appointment. While listening to the baby’s heartbeat, my doctor got that sort of unreadable concerned/thinking look doctors get. He said the baby’s heartbeat was very rapid, but he’d check again in a few minutes. A few minutes later, same look. So I had to be hooked up to the fetal monitor for half an hour to see if maybe her heartbeat would naturally come down. Which it didn’t.

So I got sent to the adjoining hospital, registered, braceleted, and set up in a “family room” where the baby’s heartbeat would be monitored for the next two hours. I was fortunate enough to have in my work bag a half-knitted sock I keep for flight delays, as well as my Blackberry and some articles to read. So I cancelled my meetings for the morning and early afternoon, called my boss to say I would either be very late today or possibly having a baby, and hunkered down.

This is when I learned that my baby apparently practices Tae Bo early-ish in the morning, and proceeds to spend the next several hours drinking herbal tea and catching up on her Jane Austen. Because as soon as I was hooked up in the hospital, her heartbeat settled way down, sluggishly down, and stayed that way for the entire two hours. Let’s hope she follows this same pattern when she’s out and about.

So while the morning wasn’t what I expected, it had a couple highlights. Such as that she’s just fine. That I wouldn’t be delivering her that day.

And that while I was relaxing and checking my Blackberry, I received an e-mail from my friend Carla asking if I was going to Michael Pollan’s free lecture this Monday. Michael Pollan. Free. Surely you heard my girlish peals of delight. I feel like somehow I willed him to come to the midwest by writing about him this week.

Which leaves me in a panic about what to wear, as these days there’s really only one honest answer to the question, “Do I look fat in this outfit?”

I Stand Corrected

Some time between feeding the boys leftovers and throwing in a load of whites, something about the last post wasn’t sitting right with me. So I checked out what I’d written, and sure enough, I typed too quickly.

 It was not 134 tons of meat that was recalled.

It was 143 million pounds of meat.

Which is a lot, lot more meat.

A Cheap and Delicious Alternative to Cheap Meat

A few days after I wrote the last post about antibiotic-filled cheap meat, I learned about the largest beef recall to happen in history — 134 tons of beef from the Hallmark/Westland Packing Plant, including a good portion of meat sold and used in school lunches. Lovely.

The plant was closed for investigation after Humane Society footage showed workers using cruel and inhumane efforts to move downed cows into the slaughterhouse for processing. The footage was disturbing for a couple reasons. There’s the obvious cruelty factor behind the story — can you enjoy your Beef Burgandy knowing the suffering that happened behind the scenes? But there’s also the health risk of processing and selling meat from cows too sick or injured to walk on their own. The processing of downed cows is supposed to be banned because falling down can be a symptom of Mad Cow Disease. “Supposed to be” banned.

Although we have a half-freezer full of beef (locally raised, fully grass-fed, antibiotic-free), I decided to go vegetarian for lunch yesterday while Tommy and I were home with strep throat. This recipe came from a blog I love, Adam Roberts’ The Amateur Gourmet. (If you head to the site, check out his classic post on the Janet Jackson Breast cupcakes following the Unfortunate SuperBowl Incident; that post still makes me laugh.) Adam got the recipe from Lydia Bastiniach of Lydia’s Italy, and it’s inexpensive and easy and delicious and makes great leftovers. And best of all, no downed cannellini beans are harmed in its creation.

 Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans

– 1 lb. pasta (rotini, penne, cavatappi — whatever’s on sale)
– 1 smallish can sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil (I buy SD tomatoes in bulk at Costco and put them in my own olive oil); you’ll need about 1 cup tomatoes, drained and sliced into 1/4-inch strips, as well as 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil
– 3 Tbsp. olive oil (2 Tbsp. now, 1 Tbsp. later)
– 4 big cloves garlic, thinly sliced
– 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
– 1 15- or 16-oz. can cannellini beans
– 1/2 tsp. salt
– 1/2 cup Parmesan or other grated cheese
– Chopped fresh parsley (totally optional)

Start the pasta cooking; do note that you’ll only be cooking the pasta partway and you’ll be using about 2-1/2 cups of the pasta water later, so don’t get crazy and cook the pasta to doneness and throw out the water.

Meanwhile, in a good-sized skillet, over medium-high heat, warm up 2 Tbsp. olive oil and 2 Tbsp. olive oil from the tomatoes. Now throw in the garlic and stir around for a minute or so. Next add the crushed red pepper and stir around for another half minute or so. Add the drained and sliced sun-dried tomatoes; spread them out and let them cook a bit, and then throw in 1 cup of the water from the pasta cooking. Simmer this until the sauce reduces by about half. Now throw in the cannellini beans, salt, and another 1-1/2 cups of pasta water, bring this to a boil, turn down the heat slightly, and let it bubble for about 4 minutes.

Sometime around now, the pasta should be al dente, and you can drain it and add it to the sauce to finish cooking in the sauce. When the pasta’s at the level you like, add the cheese and, if you like, the parsley.

Cheap Meat at What Cost?

Cow Stand Up

For a couple years now, I’ve had a geeky, unrequited crush on Michael Pollan, a food writer — and, I recently learned, brother of actress Tracy Pollan. In buzz-building for his newest book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, he wrote an intriguing article for the New York Times Magazine that traces some environmental mysteries to common but unsustainable food practices.

One of these traces a fairly recent antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria to the widespread use of antibiotics used to keep disease and death at bay in overcrowded slaughterhouses. In short, these meat farms can’t exist without the use of heavier and heavier antibiotics, and $1.69 a pound ground chuck can’t exist without these overcrowded meat factories.

So where does that leave someone looking to make a reasonably priced bolagnese sauce?

As I see it, you have a few choices:

  • Ignore the issue, and keep buying the cheap chuck. The more I learn about food and our food supply, the less this has been an option for me and Phil.
  • Buy antibiotic-free at the supermarket. New food consciousness has given us some mainstream choices in our food supply, and one of these is national producers offering antibiotic-free, sometimes organic meats available in nearly any supermarket. The prices can be steep, often around $5 to $6 per pound for ground beef, but if you’re looking to shed the drugs, they’re a good option. You can make up the difference in your food bill in other ways.
  • Buy from local farmers committed to raising antibiotic-free meat.Last summer Phil and I bought a freezer and stocked it with half a dozen local, free-range, antibiotic-free chickens, and a quarter of a grass-fed, antibiotic-free cow. It felt very Laura Ingalls Wilder to stock up for the winter; this year I’m sending Phil into the big woods to shoot a bear for our winter eating. Anyhoo, the quarter cow cost $3.75 a pound, which included ground meat, New York Strip, roasts, soup bones, and a plethora of other cuts I don’t remember. When we buy just ground meat from this farmer, it’s about $3.50 per pound, or a couple dollars less than the supermarket antibiotic-free meat.
  • Get your protein elsewhere. Beef, pork, and chicken are great sources of protein, but so are beans, some grains, and dairy products. Even if you’re a happy carnivore, if you can’t afford the more expensive antibiotic-free meat and antibiotics concern you, check out a great vegetarian cookbook like Super Natural Cooking or How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Or check out a vegetarian blog like 101 Cookbooks.

I’m all about saving money. Believe you me. But I think it’s important to strike a balance between values and a checkbook balance, and for me, looking for alternatives to cheap supermarket meat is one area where I’m okay with the budget taking a backseat to other issues.