Tag Archives: sustainability

The Year of the Thousand Splendid Grass-Fed Steaks

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Where’s the beef? It’s right here. In my freezer.

“You have some boxes of eyeballs on your back porch,” said Casey, stepping into the kitchen for dinner. I’d picked up the “eyeballs” earlier that afternoon and left them outside while I plugged in our upright freezer for the first time since we purchased it six years ago. (We’d been using it as a liquor cabinet.) The temperature outside trumped the average freezer, so the porch seemed like a logical stopping point for the beef as I worked my mind around the reality of purchasing a quarter of a cow.

When friends and I first entertained the possibility of buying grass-fed beef from a local farmer, one quarter seemed reasonable. I’m familiar with cows. I often run past their pastures; I talk to them and admire their liquid eyes and long eyelashes, their shaggy, luscious winter coats. I know how big they are. The abundance of meat I received was, nevertheless, jarring. Discussion, I realized, is nebulous; three large cardboard boxes, overfilled with beef parcels wrapped in white butcher paper, are concrete. It’s humbling to consider the bounty of a single cow.

While I tamped down the stress of my beefy new world, shoving liquor bottles into temporary housing, Casey chuckled at the dining table, shoulders quaking. “Hey,” she said, calling to me. “You want some rump with that?” Two seconds later: “How many burgers would you like with your cow?” She kept laughing. “Jules,” she said. “You know I’m gonna have mad jokes about this, right?”

I don’t think I’ve eaten this much beef in my life. My family has yet to discover an affinity for burgers or meaty sauces. My food truck/catering dream has not suddenly materialized. I sifted through the parcels, making a list of what the cow provided. As I stared down at the boxes, I questioned my sanity.

Casey looked at me – my pale, sweaty face; knit brows; frown broader than a cow’s hind end – and stopped laughing. She stood up and hugged me. “Remember why you did this, Jules,” she said, holding my frantic gaze. “Tell me again why you wanted to do this.” I did this because I could. What could be more sustainable, ethical, and beneficial to a local, independent economy than this awe-inspiring, prolific cow?

Vocalizing my intent undid the panic loop. I asked myself:

Who raised the cow? Joe Ray, a family friend and local farmer.
Where did the cow grow up? About five miles from my house, on grassy pastures in the outskirts of Moroni, Utah.
Was the cow treated humanely? Yes.
Did the cow die humanely? Yes, insofar as any animal reared for consumption can die.
Who processed the meat? Circle V Meats in Spanish Fork, Utah.
Who inspected the meat? Utah 5.
Can the grocery store answer any of these questions? No.

The cost-benefit analysis:
The beef cost $2.67 per pound prior to processing, which raised its cost to $3.38 per pound. Our locally sourced, grass-fed cow yielded approximately 467 pounds of meat in total, which means that one quarter contained about 115 pounds of:

1 package top round steak
2 packages sirloin tip roast
3 packages T-bone steak
5 packages cubed steak*
2 packages sirloin steak
3 packages rib steak
2 packages stew meat
3 packages chuck roast
2 packages rump roast
1 package tenderloin
49 pouches ground beef**

* My daughter, Rory, loves country-fried steak, so I requested a larger proportion of cubed steak than my friends did. Rory and I will learn how to cook the dish together.

** Casey and I estimated each pouch to contain ½ pound of ground beef, though others say each pouch weighs a pound. It’s difficult to tell for sure, because the pouches are frozen solid and could be use as weapons in case of a zombie apocalypse. So, the quantity I received could be anywhere between 25 and 50 pounds of beef, which is, by any estimate, a holy crap ton.

Let the year of the thousand splendid grass-fed steaks begin.

Joe Ray's pastures.

Joe Ray’s pastures.

© Julia Moris-Hartley 2014

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I Heart…

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…Because I Call Them on a Saturday Night and They Are Gracious

A group of friends went to dinner in an early celebration of Mother’s Day. They hired baby-sitters for their children; they coordinated a carpool to a city an hour’s drive north, where they had made reservations at Communal, a restaurant that boasts locally sourced, seasonal menus. At Communal, they ordered wine, appetizers, and six entrees, which they shared, family-style, in an amber-lit, partitioned room. Some partook of dessert, which was also shared. The friends split the bill without quibbling, and tipped their servers well. One of the men offered to drive everyone home. Hunger sated, spirits buoyed, they returned.

I was fortunate to be part of this dining experience. My friends and I live in a rural area with limited dining options, so planned events – I call them food pilgrimages – provide us with rare moments of socio-culinary joy. The details of this meal have since faded into an overall impression: the food was delicious; we had a great time. But one dish stood out: skirt steak with roasted piquillo peppers.

I could not stop thinking about the steak the following day and well into the evening, so I called the restaurant about twenty minutes before they closed. To my delight, one of the chefs agreed to talk with me. I apologized for the late hour and asked if he had a couple of moments. He assured me that he did, then he told me how the dish was made: ingredients, pointers, and all. Dear chef, had you been standing next to me, I would have kissed you.

*

… Because They Know How to Make An Experience Unforgettable

My friends, Casey and Laura, occasionally abduct me for a girls’ night out. Recently, we ventured to Chef’s Table, which is located in Orem. Chef’s Table is an eight-year recipient of the Best of State Award in Fine Dining. The restaurant is a luxury that we, on school salaries, can afford only on choice occasions, so we tend to make the most of them.

When we arrived, they seated us in the east room, which has floor to ceiling windows overlooking Provo Canyon. The setting sun blushed against the grey, striated upper crags of the Wasatch front, shrouding the lower valley in evening shade. We nestled into comfortable leather chairs amidst the tinkle of forks and low conversations.

One of our servers brought us a basket of warm, doughy rolls with a side of kalamata butter. We promptly ate them all. Casey, bedecked in a long grey dress and her signature red lips, ignited as the rush of umami engulfed her. We began to talk more animatedly, debating what to order. Which appetizers sounded the best to share? (Three cheese fondue with sourdough crisps and onion soup gratinée.) What entrée were we least likely to replicate at home?  (Lamb with white beans and sausage goulash; mushroom stuffed filet with ‘whipped’; and sirloin steak with truffle frites.) What type of wine should we drink? (Ravenswood Red Zinfandel.)

A change rippled through the dining room sometime in between the second round of rolls and the uncorking of the wine. The room quieted. Other diners, mostly couples, were watching us as we sampled from each other’s plates: spoons swooping, glasses tippling, murmuring in a near-rapturous state. It occurred to us that three boisterous women, high on delicious food and wine, might pose a date night anomaly. Glancing mischievously at one another, our eyes made a silent pact to provide our fellow diners with the entertainment they sought. Unapologetic foodies, we murmured louder.

By the time our entrees arrived, we didn’t really care what the couple seated across from us – who ate their entire meal one-handed, their opposite hands entwined in a sustained, tabletop embrace – thought. I turned my back to the balding man among the party of six in the corner of the room. He had actually leaned forward in his seat, neck craned, ear cocked in our direction. Casey playfully returned the favor. “Maybe we should invite him to join us,” she mock-whispered.

Our servers offered us countless rolls and unending butter; they refilled our glasses, removed plates, replaced silverware, and inquired about our satisfaction with each dish. I think our antics secretly amused them, though the befuddled hostess may have lamented her placement choice. Perhaps we’ll warn her next time: Beware! Foodies Gone Wild! On that night, however, our fleeting celebrity was well worth the cost of the performance.

*

… Because Making Others Happy Makes Them Happy

Joe, the chef de cuisine at the school where I work, rides a motorcycle and rocks out in a band. He recently got his last name tattooed on his forearm in large cursive letters, and is someone to whom I might turn if I needed food advice, special ingredients, or, perhaps, the name of a hit man.

Chef Joe is one of the most generous people I know. On my daughter’s birthday, he posted a big colorful sign in the cafeteria. He offers food samples and overages he can’t use to anyone who will take them. He’s given me honeycomb and Thai peanut marinade; he’s even given me duplicate cooking books, because he knows I share his love of food and because he has excellent taste in aspiring food writers who live in his immediate vicinity. Generosity isn’t an air or obligation for him; it’s his manner of being.

I can attest to Joe’s generosity specifically, but in my experience many food people share this quality. I do, as do my food-loving friends. I have yet to meet an ungracious chef. Generosity of spirit marks those who love to share their meals: it compels us to commune, to inquire, to enjoy and delight. Our spirits are propelled by the appreciative gestures and smiles of our efforts. It makes Joe happy to make others happy. It makes me happy to make you happy.

*

… Because They Give Me A Reason To Write

To all my friends in food: Thank you for helping to make the world a happier and infinitely more delicious place. Thank you for giving me direction and literary purpose. Happy, happy Thanksgiving!

I thank you!

I thank you!

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The Hunting Incident

It started out well enough...

It started so innocently…

“Mom, can we bring the pup?” asks Kai, gazing up with expectant hazel eyes, the freckle under his left eye illuminated in early afternoon sun. I glance at our dog, Coco: a small whitish mass of downy fluff and energy, her tail alert and wagging.

“Sure,” I say. “She’s part of the family, too, right?”

My children, Kai and Rory, exclaim “Yay!” in unison. Kai takes Coco’s leash from its hook in the laundry room, attaches the leash to Coco’s black collar, and stands and salutes, saying, “Ready for takeoff, ma’am!” Rory follows suit, also saluting. She giggles. Her freckled cheeks giggle with her.  The dog sneezes.

We open the door to a gentle easterly fall breeze, and pile into the car for a hike in nearby hills.

*

Our valley had its first snow a few days earlier, ironically, on the calendar’s first day of autumn: snow sheathed the higher rocky crags, and icy confetti dotted our driveway.  I mused on Mother Nature’s harsh whims, knowing better but nevertheless pressing a grey smudge of bitterness on my heart.  The weather gave us a short reprieve, and I seized the chance to venture out – with the kids, the dog, and the camera – in search of changing leaves.

We drove to Power Plant Road, and started up a trail that leads to a peak overlooking the valley. Kai offered to walk Coco so that Rory and I could take pictures. We passed two hunters dressed in dark camouflage suits, a common sight during the annual hunting season.  They knelt in the dirt with their backs to us, rinsing their hands in a stream of snow run-off, and talking in low, deep voices.  We continued up the trail with Kai and Coco in the lead. Kai stopped abruptly.

“Mom?” he asked. “Mom, what’s that?”  He pointed.

“What’s what?” I said, unzipping the camera bag and wrestling out the camera.  My eyes followed Kai’s finger and saw a bright red leg, deftly removed of skin, with muscle, bone, and hoof in tact.  A precise cube of venison steak lay in the dirt by my feet; stringy maroon entrails scattered along the path in the short distance between us.

“Is that blood, mom?” asked Kai, who is squeamish about everything related to internal anatomy. He presses his hands to his eyes during portions of movies or television shows that involve the handling or manipulation of flesh. “Sorry,” he says, genuinely apologetic. “It’s just that it makes me feel yucky inside.”  He gags at the sight of blood and prefers to eat things that grow from the earth.

Around us, autumn’s leaves succumbed to winter; they changed colors, but the colors were muted and pale.  The deer leg offered the brightest hue for miles.  I looked at Kai, who stared at the neatly severed leg with uncharacteristic calm. His arms strained to hold Coco, the only hunter among us, pawing at the dirt and sniffing furiously.  The sun shone warmly on my skin, but I felt chilled.  Distant gunshots pierced the air.

“Come on back down, you guys,” I said, as coolly as I could, though even I felt yucky inside. “Don’t let the dog get that meat,” I added.

The hunters had left; clouds of dust swirled in the wake of their four-wheelers.  I have never hunted, but I was puzzled.  Why would anyone leave such a huge portion of meat behind after going to the trouble of killing the deer?  Would the hunter return to claim what remained?  We did not linger to find out.

*

When I was a child visiting my grandfather in Idaho, we said grace before meals. Grandpa spent most of his career working in Africa as a physician and missionary for the Lutheran church.  He dreamt in vivid detail and often recounted his dreams at the breakfast table: wild tales of hunting and harrowing near-death experiences, the tableau of his memories translated into the larger-than-life adventures of his subconscious mind.  Grandpa hunted and fished for sustenance as well as survival. Saying grace was his way of honoring the providence of his Lord.  The naked affront of flesh on the trail brought his voice back to me.

We thank you, Lord, for this meal we are about to receive and for the blessings you give to us each day…

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the sustenance you provide to our bodies and to our souls…

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed…

*

Winter brings deer down from the mountains into our high desert valley.  Their trails scissor the deep, impacted snow.  They nibble at bare hedges and bound fences easily.  The deer congregate in clusters, trotting past the house, lingering underneath the trampoline with luminous black eyes, watchful but emboldened.

Coco invariably barks at them.  I’ve seen Coco confront a doe, who held eye contact with the dog, lifting and lowering her head repeatedly as if to say, Don’t cross me, runt. I suspect the doe’s powerful hooves would trump Coco’s teeth in a fight.  Exiles of the snow, the deer seek what sustenance they can find, wherever and however they can find it.

There was a time when I, the reformed Yankee, frowned upon hunting. But time and knowledge changed me.  If deer in our valley proliferated unchecked, they would render our gardens bare without so much as a guilty exhale, clearing trees and shrubs of foliage, chewing lettuces flat to the ground. My friend – a true Renaissance man who bakes his own bread, bottles wine from grapes and fruits he’s grown, and gardens by principle – lost acres and months of gardening effort to a single family of deer last year despite preventative barriers. The deer ravaged his extensive garden overnight.  Deer graze everything, and they reproduce rapidly.  They multiply, despite their high rate of roadside casualties. Do I see myself hunting?  No, but I understand the practicality of hunting in my area.

*

As a meat eater, albeit an occasional one, I acknowledge my complicity in the demise of animals who, while not hunted, are born and raised to give their lives for my supper.  I may not wield the gun, but I purchase and consume the spoils.  The plastic-wrapped parcels I buy are a different version of the same primal hunger.  Meat is flesh; organs are organs. The bare leg on the trail confronted me with this humbling reminder.

My grandfather died years ago, and my practice of saying grace at the table died with him.  His spirit has not left me, however, so instead I practice gratitude, sprinkling my thanks on plates of crunchy fried chicken and seasoning my meals with care.

The deer distressed me. Is it common for hunters to leave unwanted meat? Are deer legs undesirable cuts, and if so, why go to the trouble of skinning an entire leg only to leave it, carelessly strewn in the woods? Why make the effort of killing the animal, only to waste such a considerable part of it?  It struck me as an appalling lack of regard: towards other humans and, more importantly, the deer itself. I think I heard my grandfather’s voice that day to tether me, to remind me of what it means to be grateful.  His voice rustled through the pale leaves, whispering condolences for a loss wholly lacking grace.

© Julia Moris-Hartley, 2013

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A Day at the Pea Plantation

Live... and thrive!

Live… and thrive!

I stand in the snow, panting, on a sunny winter day.  Sweat rolls down my forehead; rivulets drip down my back.  Though temperatures have peaked in the mid-thirties, I’ve discarded my jacket, scarf, and gloves. My shirtsleeves are pushed as high as they can go. I lean against a sagging chain link fence, brushing my hair, which clings to my face, away from my eyes. I’m sucking air like I’ve just run a marathon. I need a moment’s rest, so I focus on the rugged, white mountains that rise in the east and the piercing blue sky. A woodpecker alights on a nearby telephone pole, embarking on its evolutionary carpentry: tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.  I have just spent an hour shoveling a narrow footpath in knee-deep snow along one side of the fence, preparing the dark, wet soil to receive thousands of little pea pods for the spring harvest.  I am in the Pea Plantation of greater Salt Lake.

My friend, Casey, the enabler of virtually all of my culinary adventures, kneels about twenty feet away, hunched over in the snow-crusted soil, pulling up the woody remains of last year’s pea plants.  Later, she tells me how much the intractable woody stems frustrated her, but each time I look over at her, I see only her bright smile, directed at me or at one of the several others with whom she labors.  Later, I tell her how hard it was to shovel all that snow, especially towards the ground line, where it hardened into ice, but in the moment I work slowly and patiently, gleaning snippets of information from the volunteers who shovel with me.  Cameron, a reedy young chef in a white t-shirt and skinny jeans, is a fellow kombucha connoisseur; he has repurposed an old bottle for carrying water.  Jorges and Mirielle, an attractive Latin couple, are transplants from Texas.  They have a young baby at home – a fact belied by lithe Mirielle’s flat abs and perfect butt – and practice veganism out of their respect for the sustainability of the planet.  They tell Julia, a brunette graduate student from North Carolina, about different types of food documentaries, one of which (whose name I miss) makes Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation look like cartoons.  I smile to myself.  Though shoveling snow is hard work, I am among my people: foodies at their finest.

Ironically, we are all migrants of a kind: transplanted souls called to Utah for various reasons. Unlike the migrants who typically do the backbreaking work of today’s industrial farming, however, we have gathered voluntarily at a local, family-run farm, united by our beliefs and by an honest desire to effect a change. Casey found this community through a website called meetup.com.  Our fellow farmers cited other social websites and word of mouth.  There were fewer than ten of us in all, but many hands can clear away a lot of snow in an hour.

The Pea Plantation is one of fourteen community gardens scattered across three acres throughout Salt Lake City and operated by Sheryl McGlochlin.  Sheryl’s website is liveandthrive.com, for those interested in exploring her work further, but, basically, her farms have flourished, producing table-ready produce until late November each year, because of local volunteers who help her work the soil… and reap its bounty.  She charges a $100 annual membership fee.  Members receive a bounty of produce in exchange for the fee and a little sweat equity.  For people who want to try it out before committing, like Casey and me, there are Saturday gatherings, where one can put in an hour’s work and receive a freshly cooked meal from Sheryl, along with a bag full of the extras, like bagels or cookies, that she gets from bartering/trading with other local businesses.

As the sun begins to set, our bodies cool and we stand huddled, hugging ourselves. Sheryl feeds us a delicious 16-bean soup, salty with bacon (which Jorges politely reserves and shares with Julia) and pleasingly warm.  After dinner, we thank Sheryl for her hospitality and disband for the day.

Later that night, Casey and I settle into our hostel beds, nursing zinfandel from mismatched coffee mugs.  “Just think how much work it must take to manage 14 acres of farms,” I say.  “I’m gonna be so sore tomorrow.” My respect for Sheryl and our fellow farmers is sky high.  Though I only contributed an hour’s time, I feel really proud of what we accomplished.  I want to keep coming to help.

“I think I’m already sore,” says Casey, laughing as she stretches her long legs.  Then she winks at me and says, “That was fun!”

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