Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Ethics of Meat

Are you a vegetarian? Vegan? Pescetarian, flexitarian or omnivore? Don’t even get me started on meatatarians. Maybe you’ve gone paleo?

When it comes to food politics, the divisions can be just as contentious as regular politics. And we all know how that is these days.

I was reminded of this the other day while reading an exchange on a local Facebook page devoted to sustainable food issues. Someone posted information regarding an event where pork was being served. Someone responded with a passionate denunciation of the event because of the presence of meat and advocated for strictly vegetarian events.

While I understand passions run high when discussing such matters, what struck me was the tone of the conversation. The person who posted the event was very diplomatic in pointing out this was a forum for all sorts of sustainable food issues – vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. The anti-meat person was basically shouting down anyone who disagreed.

I'm not suggesting that all vegetarians are zealots with poor communication skills, but it did make me reflect on my own journey with food choices.

Almost ten years ago, I started changing my food-purchasing habits. Thanks to an increase in local sources of humanely raised meat and poultry, my shopping options were more diverse.

At the same time, I was reading more and more about the horrific conditions in major meat and poultry farms and processors. Finally I made the decision not to participate in supporting that system.

Occasionally I’m in a position where I need to eat food of unknown or unsustainable origin. That’s part of life. Unless you’re growing and foraging all your food, you’re most likely eating something that exploits animals, people, or land.

When it comes to meat, I’d be most comfortable eating abundant game animals like deer, which desperately need to be culled. But due to local regulations prohibiting the sale of venison and my lack of friends who hunt, that’s not an option. So, I buy all the meat, poultry, and seafood we eat from the best sources I can find – usually local, small farms and fisheries.

All that being said, I still struggle with the ethics of eating meat, especially farmed meat. Some day I may decide to stop.

But what I will never do is lecture other people about their choices.

If you’d like to ask me about my decisions or have an intelligent conversation about your food politics, I’d be happy to engage you. I welcome the opportunity to hear different perspectives and consider alternate points of view.

This is what gives the sustainable food movement the opportunity to make real changes in our food system. By involving vegans, farmers, meat processors, fishermen (and fisherwomen), and people of all eating persuasions, we can move common concerns into the mainstream while having respectful conversations about our individual concerns.

And conversely, scolding people rarely accomplishes anything. So let's keep the conversations civil.

The same goes for politics.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Five Simple Ways to Cook (More) Like a Chef

Disclaimer: The only way to cook like a chef is to go to culinary school or cook for a long, long time in restaurants.

I’m no chef, but I’ve worked in and around restaurants long enough to pick up some tricks. Here are five easy things will up your game in the kitchen considerably.

1.    Use the best ingredients you can find.

Does this really need much explanation? Fresh, top-notch ingredients need less effort and preparation to shine. And if you’re putting a lot of work into a meal, it makes even more sense to start with the best raw materials.

2.    Get a good, sharp knife and learn some basic skills.

How precisely your ingredients are sliced, chopped, minced or julienned is a sure sign of kitchen talent. A former employer once made this point by taping a too-thick slice of onion to the kitchen wall with a nasty note. Check out this great intro to knife skills.

3.    Keep textures and tastes in balance.

All soft or all crunchy is monotonous. The same goes for sweet or tart flavors. Mix your dishes and ingredients to create a harmonious mix of textures and flavors. Watch how the pros at your local restaurants do it and steal ideas liberally.

4.    Sauces, salsas and condiments are your best friends.

There’s nothing more valuable to improve a meal than the flourish that these three things provide. Why do you think cookbooks have entire sections devoted to them?

5.    Think about how your plate looks.

And I’m not just talking about your dinnerware. Use different colors. Stack something. Drizzle something. Again, watch how restaurants do it and steal ideas.

Bonus tip: Fresh parsley and cilantro should be in your fridge. Always.

I’ll admit I’m not always good at this, but these two herbs are cheap and available year-round in just about any grocery store. Use them for garnish or to add a fresh kick at the end of cooking. You can bet your favorite restaurant does.

Above all - be fearless and have fun. The best chefs never stop learning. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Wine Review: Pullus Pinot Grigio 2012 Štajerska-Slovenia

If you've written off pinot grigio, this wine might change your mind.

I rarely buy pinot grigio unless it's placed directly in my hand, as this bottle was by my local merchant. The world is awash in thin, generic white wine that gives this very worthy grape a black eye.

Pullus Pinot Grigio is produced by Ptujska Klet, the oldest winery in Slovenia. When was the last time you saw this claim on a bottle of wine?

Yeah, since 1239. If you're interested in learning some more about this fascinating winery, check this out. If you'd rather taste the most interesting and delicious pinot grigio you're likely to have anytime soon, run - don't walk - to go find this wine. It will be worth the search.

The first thing that catches your eye is the beautiful pale salmon color in the glass. The winemaker allowed extended skin contact, which gives it that lovely color.

It's very dry and bursting with fresh flavors. I picked up melon, a hint of red berries and notes of herbs. It's complex, yet refreshing. Served with seared grouper cheeks over gnocchi and greens, it was a perfect match.

Pullus Pinot Grigio 2012 Štajerska-Slovenia - ($13.99 - Vino Garage)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Man's Best Friend

After a two-year break from writing this blog, it’s hard to pick a topic for a comeback post. Eventually, you just have to pick something and go with it.

Some my favorite posts have been about our dogs, so that seems like a safe bet.

The picture above is our latest dog, Abi. She came to live with us about a year and a half ago.

It’s been almost four years since we lost a truly epic dog. Peanut was an amazing girl, and my eyes still mist over every time I think about her. After she passed away, our whole family needed time to mourn. 

I understand why some people choose to fill the void left by the passing of a pet right away, but I just can't do it. I need the loss to fade before I can give a new animal the emotional investment they deserve.

It took a long time for me to wrap my head around adding a new dog to our household. The decision was eventually made by a simple fact – Hogan was lonely.

He had never been an only dog. After Peanut was gone, he had a couple dog buddies, and we tried taking him to the dog park. But Hogan isn’t a run-with-the-pack kind of guy. He likes to have a friend he really connects with.

One day a friend sent me a link to a rescue group's Facebook photo of a female Belgian Malinois that needed a home. I fell in love. And that is how Abi came to live with us.

It took a long period of adjustment, lots of guidance on feline diplomacy, a stolen sandwich, a chewed piece of wall and much patience from all parties involved, but Abi has become one of the family.

I don’t know how she ended up at the animal shelter where she was rescued the day before she was to be put down. She certainly bounced around quite a bit for the first year of her life.

It’s hard for a dog to get used to a new home with new rules. It was hard for Hogan to get used to living with a new dog, especially one whose idea of fun is a ferocious neck-grab takedown.

Right now I’m watching them sleeping side-by-side. Dogs – just like people – need time to form a relationship. Seeing the bond and love between them reminds me of something else common to dogs and people.

There’s nothing like having a best friend.   

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Once again, I've been seriously slack about keeping up with the blog. My days have been super busy, and blogging is something that's easy to leave undone.

Today has been a blur of multi-tasking: Lowe's, Home Depot, a last-minute search for hardwood charcoal, cooking, chores, etc. I neglected to think about the fact we might want some chilled white wine this afternoon, so I dropped a bottle of riesling in a ice bath for a quick chill.

When I pulled the bottle out, it had shed its label, but I like the way it looks now.

It looks very simple and refreshing, which it definitely is. It's a wonderful glass of wine for a busy afternoon: crisp flavors of apple and pear with just a hint of sweetness. Lovely.

We picked this bottle on a recent trip to the Asheville Wine Market. The price tag soaked off as well, but as I recall it was around $14 for a 1 liter bottle.

I've got a pork shoulder on the grill and there's slaw to be made and much more to be done, so I need to keep this short. Hope everyone is having a good Sunday.

I know I am.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Playing in the Dirt


I spent the better part of the morning working on my garden. I planted nine tomato plants, seven basil plants, two eggplants, one squash plant, one zucchini plant and one mystery plant in the squash/zucchini family that was donated by a kind neighbor.

I've washed off the sweat and dirt, and this is going to be a short post because I need to fix lunch (and feed the cat before she starves to death which she is indicating is imminent). Some studies have shown that playing in the dirt can improve your mood. I'm inclined to believe it because I feel pretty good right now.

My garden is a humble endeavor, but hopefully a couple months from now we'll start reaping the rewards of my efforts. I'll no doubt add on some plants in the coming weeks as room allows. After that, I'll be providing tender loving care and anxiously awaiting our bounty.

Hope you're having a great Saturday wherever you are.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dig Deep

One of the curiosities about winemaking is that the best grapes do not grow where you might expect. Although grapevines may thrive in fertile soil and perfect weather, the best wine grapes come from less than ideal locations.

Grapes grown in rocky soil with imperfect weather conditions develop more depth and character than their coddled counterparts. You can make wine from those grapes grown in ease, but it won’t be as good as the wine from vines that had to really work to produce grapes.

It’s easy to see the correlation with other aspects of life. Adversity and stress build character. Too much adversity isn’t a good thing, but a life of leisure rarely creates depth and character.

It’s important to keep challenging oneself throughout life, both mentally and physically. We all need to step outside our comfort zone occasionally.

I was reminded of this when E and I joined a gym after a much too long hiatus for both of us. Although I don’t relish the 5 a.m. trips to the gym, it feels good to challenge my body. It’s a small thing, but it’s been a nice change of pace.

I get stuck in a routine all too easily. My weeks frequently look startlingly similar: the same schedule, the same rituals, the same meals, the same wines. The weeks turn to months and the months to years. I need something to shake up my life from time to time.

One reason grapes develop more character in poor soil because it causes their roots to dive deep into the earth in search of nourishment.

Here’s to diving deep in life.