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Yesterday I treated myself to lunch at the Co-op, which has a really nice, fairly local and all-organic deli. It’s a nice walk from my office, about 15 minutes from door to door, and this summer has been so mild so far (knock on wood) that I could walk it fairly comfortably at 2pm on a July day. I took advantage of the hot bar, which featured Mediterranean potatoes, Spanikopita, creamed lentils, and Greek chicken – everything looked and smelled delicious. As usual, I sat down in the dining room and spread out my current read, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, just above my plate so I could read and eat.
I’m nearing the end of the book, and started reading Chapter 18, titled “Hunting: The Meat”. In this section, Michael Pollan recounts his first day hunting pigs in the hills of nearby Sonoma County, as part of his analysis of a completely hunted and foraged meal. I felt a little unsure about reading this section while eating, but I figured I could stomach it.
Somewhere around the time he was describing his friend’s kill, I looked down to cut my chicken thigh, and the skin, which I suddenly recognized entirely as skin, slipped off the meat, revealing the plump, smooth, white muscle underneath. In a flash, I became acutely, sickeningly aware of exactly what I was eating, in a visceral way that I don’t recall experiencing before. As someone who was a vegetarian for the better part of 17 years, and a vegan for some of that time, I’ve avoided this feeling by abstaining from the practice of eating meat, but at the beginning of this year I decided to become an omnivore again, for various reasons. I’d started out with barely perceptible meat – chunks of beef stuffed neatly away in a burrito, or sausage or liverwurst which has been fairly disguised. But now I had graduated to the kind of meat that is unmistakably animal.
I thought very hard about looking away, putting my fork down and leaving the remainder of the thigh, but this book made me think twice about it; if I’m going to make the conscious decision to eat meat again (which I have), then I’d better be as honest as I could about it. If I couldn’t eat this chicken with full conscious knowledge and respect for the animal whose life ended in order to nourish me, then I didn’t want to do it at all. So I finished my slice through the flesh and skin, almost bionically aware of each cut fiber, and ate another bite. Strangely enough, I enjoyed the flavor, and felt a strong spiritual gratitude surge through me. I felt that I needed to honor this animal’s life by eating every bit of meat that I could cut off the bone; that it would have been disrespectful to be at all casual about what I was consuming; so I cleaned it thoroughly. I also felt grateful that even the last bite felt slightly uneasy. It was the most honest chicken meal I’d ever eaten.
Tonight I felt compelled to write about it, and even as I write I’m surprised by the power and profundity of yesterday’s seemingly simple, everyday lunch. I hope I don’t forget it.
Adam tagged me last week for the “eight random facts” game. The ones tagged must divulge eight random facts about themselves.
The ground rules:
*These rules must be posted before giving you the facts.
* Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
* People who are tagged write their own revealing blog about their eight random facts and post the rules. At the end of the blog post, you choose eight people to tag and list their names.
* Remember to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
So here goes:
1- I’ve recently started Irish language lessons. I tried to start learning a few years ago, but the tape/book set just wasn’t inspirational so I didn’t stick with it. I found a guy in town that teaches one-on-one, plus he hosts a weekly practice session at the Fox & Goose. It’s fun and I’m so glad to finally be learning this beautiful language. Go raibh maith agat, a Shéamais!
2- The book I’m currently reading is “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. Curiously, this book has followed me around for about a year, and even Adam recommended it to me. I finally got it from the library, and I’m not disappointed! I highly recommend it.
3- Before I became a psychotherapist, I was an actress. The two careers are strikingly similar, but probably not for the reasons you first imagine.
4- I have a number of small groups of girlfriends, each of which numbers four women including myself. There’s something alchemical that happens at this magic number. All of my girlfriends are amazing, but I must give an extra-loud shout-out to my first and most beloved, my Elements: Pixie, Julie & Barbara Anne.
5- When I bike to work (which goes in fits and starts depending on the weather and my sleep patterns) I’ve taken to taking my old Hiawatha Gambler cruiser. It creaks when I ride it and the seatpost is a tad too short for me, but I feel so girlish and green when I ride my recycled bike with a basket on the front!
6- Yesterday my mom gave me a pair of practically brand-new Keen sandals. Although grateful, I wasn’t impressed at first glance. They seem duckier than even I like, and strange looking – but probably good for light hiking, I reasoned. This morning I put them on for a casual day at the office and I forgot I had shoes on. Now I’ll have to remind myself not to wear them every day.
7- I recently saw the film Once and was completely smitten with modern urban Ireland and its fabulous music scene. Another reason to learn Irish and get my butt over there someday soon.
8- (taking a direct quote from Adam’s #8) “I’m becoming more and more interested in Slow Food and Locavorism.” Me too! I just heard the word Locavore last weekend, but I’ve been getting more and more line with the principles for the last several years (with a brief detour into veganland). “…we get a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box from Eatwell Farm.” Us too! I’m really trying to eat more locally and seasonally, and I feel deeply committed to supporting our local farmers as directly as I can. This week’s box totally rocked!
I spent the weekend in San Jose with one of my dearest girlfriends, Stacy, and her family. They own a beautiful 1920′s home on a double plot in one of the most charming neighborhoods in town, and Stacy has created an absolute sanctuary. I love visiting there for so many reasons, but I’ll admit one of them is that I simply love spending time there. The home is cozy and loved-in, and the front door is always open to welcome neighbors who want to chat in the kitchen or stop by for dinner (which has happened almost every time I have visited them). Stacy is a real inspiration to me – a mentor for simple, open-hearted, deep living.
She is also an amazing chef, and a hardcore follower and proponent of the traditional food movement. We spent all our meals at a simple al fresco dining table in the yard, shaded by Japanese maples and redwoods. Meals were made with the freshest, most local ingredients, prepared lovingly and patiently by Stacy and whoever else was chatting in the kitchen, and served graciously and proportionately. I could always see much of the plate (watch out Claimjumper!) yet the food was so delicious and nutrient-dense I never left the table feeling hungry or cheated. I would much rather have this kind of food than the piles and piles served by most restaurants these days. I believe there is some redefining to be done around the idea of value as it pertains to food.
Apart from taking me to and from the train station, we got into the car exactly once the entire weekend, to visit Whole Foods for some ingredients for dinner on Saturday. The rest of the time we practiced slow living…long chats, frisbee in the park, blackberry-picking in the backyard, bee-watching, games with Stacy’s daughter, and more chats. It was languid and lovely. I came home determined to create more of that, although I know too well my tendency to get busy in response to that slowness; there is something uncomfortable about it, which I’m trying to work through.
After a nourishing weekend of good friends, good food and lots of fresh air, Stacy sent me home on the train with a bag of wonderful goodies – a sack lunch of gorgeous sockeye salmon, green beans, quinoa, and Caprese salad; two dozen (!) pastured eggs from their CSA (apparently a lot of families were on vacation this week); a jar of sourdough starter, and a beautiful 12-inch disc of kombucha scoby. Fermentation heaven! Today I got my hands on a 5-quart glass jar and tranferred that mammoth mushroom to some fresh sugared jasmine tea. Fingers crossed!
I feel so deeply honored by my friendship with Stacy, one of many deeply nourishing relationships with special women in my life. I count myself incredibly lucky to know her, and to be a recipient of her grace and love. Thanks Stac!
I am deeply committed to local food, which is good for us on so many levels. Locally grown food is picked at the peak of ripeness, which is also at the peak of nutrient-density. It supports local farmers and contributes to the local economy. And it doesn’t have to be transported very far, which lowers carbon dioxide emissions from cargo trucks and the like. My CSA delivers boxes of freshly-picked produce and pastured eggs once a week, traveling a total distance of 9 miles via biodiesel truck to the drop-off spot; I add another 14 miles to pick up said box of freshness. This is the way I like just about all of my food to get to me, and I do a lot of what others would consider obsessive research to find out where my food is coming from, who’s producing it, and if they’re treating the plants, animals, and earth well. I really enjoy this process of connecting to my food in a very intimate and conscious way – it’s fun for me, and helps me keep in touch with what fuels my body.
Every once in a while, though, there is a food that I simply must have. In 2004 I spent two weeks in Scandinavia for a family reunion. While there, I spent a few days in Malmö, Sweden with old family friends. Each morning, they had a wonderfully fresh breakfast laid out: freshly baked whole-grain bread; lettuce, tomatoes and onions; fresh butter and cheeses; muesli and kefir; and Kalles, the traditional Swedish breakfast spread made of creamed cod roe.
Now I know what you’re thinking – after reading the words “creamed cod roe” how could you not? I had the same reaction, but I’m a pretty adventurous eater (especially when I’m traveling) and love to try exotic foods. So I followed my host’s lead, spreading a piece of fresh bread with butter and Kalles, then topping that with cheese and veggies. It took a few bites to get used to the salty, briny taste, but soon I was hooked. When we got home two weeks later, I made a beeline for the nearest IKEA and bought two tubes of the stuff (along with some other Swedish goodies) to take home.
Three years later, I still make regular trips to stock up. I just love Kalles, and even though it is pretty much the antithesis of everything I generally look for in food (it travels about 5,500 miles to get to me, probably by polluting cargo ship, and sits in a huge warehouse of consumerism) I make an exception for it. These cons aside, it is a pretty healthy food. The ingredient list is entirely recognizable, and it’s full of good fish oil and protein. Here’s how I enjoy it most mornings:
Fry an egg in butter or coconut oil. Meanwhile, toast a slice of sourdough bread in the toaster or oven. Spread the toast with fresh raw butter, then with Kalles. Top with cheese, then the fried egg. Lettuce leaves and tomato slices go well between the cheese and egg, if you wish. It’s a healthy, nutrient-dense, and satisfying breakfast that sticks with me through the morning and well into the afternoon. And it’s yummy to boot! Ah, Kalles. How you have won my heart.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Today I finished my latest library book on the way home from a family wedding. Real Food by Nina Planck has gotten me even more excited – I didn’t know that was possible – about eating, preparing, and learning about traditional food. The writing is easy and down-to-earth, but the content is absolutely chock-full of information on the health – mental, physical and otherwise – of eating the foods our grandparents ate.
While reading, I looked back at the last three or four weeks, when I have become a bit more restrictive and rigid about my eating habits again. Feeling unhappy about my size and weight, I’ve tried familiar tricks – going dairy-free and gluten-free – to see if those omissions would help. But I’ve been down those roads before, and they lead to obsessiveness and isolation for me. Also, they prevent me from really enjoying food for the taste, the texture, the presentation, the moment. Of course, these things don’t happen for everyone I’m sure, but for me, absolutely. I don’t have serious health issues (that I’m aware of) with either dairy or gluten, although those foods have given me trouble in the past. But I have to wonder if my troubles have been the result of industrialized dairy (pasteurized & homogenized) and gluten (prepared without soaking, sprouting, or fermentation). I don’t know the answer, but I don’t want to go back to eating in a way that separates me from others and requires me to think about my food all the time instead of tasting and enjoying it!
So I had a grand time today, shopping at Ikeda’s Fruit Stand for fresh blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries as well as local, vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh corn. At the co-op I bought fresh raw milk as well as raw gouda and mozzarella di bufalo, and a bottle of commercial kombucha with which to (hopefully) start my own culture. At the local butcher I found beautiful wild salmon and took another stab at 50 cents’ worth of fresh liverwurst from a highly regarded sausage maker in San Francisco. Tonight we’ll have grilled cedar-plank salmon, corn on the cob, and a beautiful insalata caprese with said tomatoes, mozzarella, and local organic young basil leaves, sprinkled with sea salt, crushed black pepper, and drizzled with Sacramento’s very own Bariani olive oil – “stone-crushed, cold-pressed, decanted and unfiltered California extra-virgin olive oil”. I wish I knew where our camera was so I could show you how colorful and ripe and delicious this salad looks! We’ll enjoy our food with some local red wine, and for dessert Descartes has stuck into the coals a little hobo pack of fresh apricots and blackberries with blackberry jam. Can’t wait to dig in!
One of the challenges I took from Real Food was to have at least two different fruits and/or vegetables at each meal. Hence the tomato salad and grilled corn tonight. I’m going to try this challenge for myself over the next few weeks, and see how it goes. Nina Planck wrote that she sometimes prepares as many as four different vegetable dishes at one meal! Even though it’s not very summery, my mouth has been watering today for June’s Colcannon again…I might have to just go for it even though it is more of a spring dish. Maybe for breakfast???