Tag Archives: Diet & Health

Butchery, Part III: Makin’ the Bacon

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 12 PMWelcome to the third and final part of my Butchery adventure. Check out parts one and two to get caught up. This blog was written in the immediate aftermath of the butchery lesson, but it’s taken me a while to up and post here.

Written: 3/29/13

A few years ago, a friend challenged me to do one new thing a month for the entire year. I think today would have impressed him, because today I helped butcher a pig.

If you’ve read parts one and two of my porcine journey, you’ll know I had serious misgivings about how I might make it through once the pig parts started to fly.

My friend and I made our way to the restaurant; we arrived a little after ten. After introducing us around, they asked what kind of experience, if any, my friend and I had in butchery. I haven’t had any; my friend had taken part in something similar with a lamb and had been studying pig butchery for weeks.

IMAG1143We were given chef’s jackets and aprons before being shown the pig we were about to butcher.

I’ve never been confronted with a pig’s head before. They’re not animals I’ve spent a lot of time with, and the pork shoulder that started this journey was, I now realize, probably not as high in quality as the one we were about to artfully dismember.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 19 PMBefore we started, the Chef was gave us some background on American and European butchery – for example, did you know that in Europe they cut pig according to its muscle structure, rather than trying to eek out every bit of a so-called choice cut? – and told us a little bit about his own journey to his present position.

Then we learned a little about the pig we were going to work on. It had been raised well and not filled with hormones or antibiotics, and just a few days earlier had been alive and in the fields. In other words, it didn’t get any fresher than this.

IMAG1137I could give a play-by-play of how the Chef walked us through each of the portions of the dissection, but I don’t think I could do justice to just how good of a teacher he was. Both my friend and I had questions, and the three of us chatted as the Chef explained how we were going to take the pig apart so as not to waste any of it. We felt organs and spinal fluid, removed strips of fat (set aside to be rendered), helped saw off limbs, trussed the pork loin, seasoned Bacon for curing and even got to sample a small piece of pork fresh-cooked with olive oil, salt, garlic and thyme.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 26 PMA lot of anatomy was discussed. My mom used to teach at the University at Buffalo Medical School (as did my grandfather) and as a child I was once treated to a visit to the gross anatomy lab in the middle of a class while my mom spoke with a colleague. I remember things like the spinal columns in a jar on her desk, and while I was never a crack student in biology, the physiology of a human and a pig are similar enough that it made sense to hear how pigs used certain muscles more regularly than others, and how, for example, a muscle a pig wouldn’t use at all would be much more developed in a human because of how we move and bend.

Giving an example of how little pig was wasted in the dissection, the Chef at first threw a few small pieces of “silverskin” – inedible tendon tissue – into the garbage, then changed his mind and retrieved a dish that might have held a cup in volume (though I’d be surprised). When we were finished, he assured us, the cup wouldn’t be full. That’s how much of the pig gets used. It was impressive.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 20 PMI also saw some first-rate knives in action, which (if you know me) I found pretty damn cool. Watching the Chef easily slide the blade under layers of fat and clean off the pork, I started trying to calculate how many years it will be before I could afford my own set. Way too many.

Once we finished the first half of the pig, which had weighed about 250 pounds when it was alive, we took a break.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 33 PMBoth me and my friend had glasses of water, and the chef cooked up a “snack” – which he paired with a glass of beaujolais when I took him up on the offer of a glass of wine. (What, did anyone think I’d turn down free wine with a gourmet, freshly-butchered snack?)

When it came to the second half of the pig, the Chef worked quickly. My friend and I helped saw off the legs – the ham, or what would become it (and please note that all errors in naming parts of the animal are the fault of my memory and not poor delivery!) and trussed pork loin to make densely-rolled cuts that would cook evenly.

When both sides of the pig had been butchered into parts, we took a few minutes to prepare ourselves – washing up (though the entire process was far cleaner, and far less bloody, than what I had anticipated), getting our coats back, and stashing the aprons we’d worn – authentic chef souvenirs! – into bags the Chef provided.

Then,the question restaurant- and food-lovers love to hear:

Photo Mar 29, 9 59 01 PM (1)Did we want lunch?

Neither of us was about to say no. We took seats at the bar and agreed: everything on the menu looked amazing, and both of us were happy to eat whatever the Chef wanted to share with us.

It may have been the best meal of my life. We started with a charcuterie board, which featured different cured meats, head cheese, some kind of bacon-wrapped thing, porchetta (please God let me be getting this right) and more. And amazing bread.

Speaking of bread, a couple of guys were kneading gorgeous trays of focaccia beside us, under what looked like extendable heat lamps that hung from the ceilings. Before our eyes, they transformed a giant tray of kneaded dough into a salted and seasoned tray off carby-delicious-goodness.

The next dish – the Chef asked if we wanted to keep going, and neither me nor my friend was about to turn him down – was a gorgonzola, Apple, radicchio and bacon salad.

Photo Mar 29, 11 31 28 AMNow, maybe you like bacon. But when you’ve just spent a week freaking out about whether you’ve got what it takes to butcher an animal, in the way of “not running screaming from the carcass” kind of way – and then found out that indeed, you may indeed have what it takes – the bacon tastes WAY FREAKING BETTER. Or maybe that was because it was freshly cured by a very talented chef.

It was probably the chef. 😉

The next course was spaghetti bolognese, which was the best pasta bolognese I have ever had in my life. Bar none. As my friend said, “that pasta was like a warm hug.”

Finally, the main course. Oh em jee. Butternut squash, kale and chanterelle Mushrooms, and a taste of a few different types of pork: tenderloin, pork belly and a little pork-sausage-type thing that I want to call a croquette, but I know that isn’t the name for it.

Did I mention the chef prepared each course himself?

Best meal of my life. Hands down.

Afterwards, we said our good-byes and expressed our appreciation. I think we left the restaurant a little before two. It was probably one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in quite some time, and one I’ll treasure for a very, very long time.

Not only did I gain a new appreciation for where my food comes from, but now I know I’ll have the butchery skills I’ll need to survive a zombie apocalypse – and that if it comes down to me or a zombie, I don’t have to worry that I might be too squeamish to, as my butchery t-shirt said, “sever the head.”

IMAG1118

Although I might get the hand saw caught on a bone.

 

A Healthy Lifestyle – Lived Sustainably

When I started writing this blog, one of the big topics I talked about was maintaining a low sodium diet. Where am I with that, these days?

I’ll be honest. The whole fitness-eat-right-take-care-of-yourself thing is harder to sustain than you’d think. Or maybe it’s exactly as hard as you think; maybe you’re more realistic in this department than I am.

The point is, I’m trying: I still eat my zero-sodium bread, I don’t add salt to the food that I cook – but sometimes the demands of life get in the way. And as I get busier, my conscientiousness about my diet gets less of my attention. So I pick up a slice, I stop in at McDonald’s for a burger, I eat half a carton of ice cream, I hit the gym once a fortnight instead of three times a week. It’s showing.

Time to re-up my resolve, and keep actively striving for balance. Wish me luck.

Low Sodium Pineapple & Mango Curry Recipe

Did some experimenting over the weekend and liked the results. Here’s what you need for this recipe:

1 pineapple
1 package of chicken (I think I used a little over a pound), cut into chunks
1/2 red onion, chopped
curry powder (spice to taste)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 bag frozen mango chunks
Ginger (to taste)
1 can chickpeas (optional – these tend to have a high sodium content)

Dump everything in the crock pot and leave it for a while.

Come back when the chicken is done cooking and it will be this amazing stew type thing. You will not be disappointed. And it’s super healthy because the pineapple makes it sweet, so no added sugar, and it doesn’t need any salt at all because that’s not the point of it. I like to eat it just plain like that.

2012-04-23 19.41.14

It’s very tasty. I had planned to have it for the whole week, but then my roommate tried some and my downstairs neighbor tried some, and let’s just say I’m going to have to buy another pineapple later this week. 🙂

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Really Sick

A few days ago, a friend’s blog featured a guest post on body image – specifically in relation to dieting and discipline, and the idea of a child being put on a diet by their parents, and how early exposure to a culture of dieting sticks with us throughout our lives.

This week, I hit my lowest weight since high school, excepting one transient moment when I was seeing a trainer and got a bit lower – that lasted all of two weeks, and was in no way sustainable, as I was simply counteracting all the crap I ate at the time with seven or more hours a week at the gym. The second I stopped using a personal trainer, those pounds crept back on.

This week, on the other hand, is a totally different deal. I’ve lost eight pounds in three days. EIGHT POUNDS! SINCE LAST WEEK. Noticeably shrinking waist circumference!  All my skinny clothes will fit again! Which means some of my larger-sized dresses are going to be too big for me now! I can give them away to other curvy ladies in need of some plus-size fashion! This should be exciting, right? Because giving dresses away leads to BUYING NEW DRESSES. Or something.

Oh wait, except I’m sick sick sick and haven’t been out of bed in four days, my last square meal was on Wednesday last week, and I’m convinced the only thing that’s currently keeping me alive is the all-natural root beer that’s delivering sugar to my system, except that it also makes my heart pound, so today I’m switching it out for Lady Grey decaf with honey.

Also (cough hack hack cough) I think I dropped a bit of my lung over there, mind passing it back to me?

It doesn’t help that this whole “loose jeans resulting from being quite sick” is also throwing a spotlight onto how feminism plays into my own life. Can I be happy to have lost a few pounds, when it’s through illness? When I tweet that my jeans are loose and I’m not sure that I care why – and then a moment later confirm that actually, I realized I don’t care why, but I’m going to have to parse the implications of that vis a vis feminism – and a friend, normally more committed to these things than I, then follows up to my “my jeans are loose” comment with “rough life” – are she and I both playing into a mode of approach that we both struggle, on a daily basis, not to reinforce? Does the fact that we acknowledge the ickiness of the logic behind the feelings give us the ability/permission to express them, nonetheless?

Those eight pounds didn’t go anywhere because of any healthy decision I made. They got lost because I got sick. I have felt physically miserable for days. MISERABLE. (Does anyone else ever forget, so quickly, just how bad it feels to be sick? Because I swear I never think it’s as bad as all that until the disease is IN ME and I feel like THIS:

Me, for the last four days

So the minute I think, well, at least this is one positive thing this stupid illness has done that’s good, I also slam into a wall of the following logic:

“Don’t feel good about this. It isn’t healthy. Feel good about healthy things. Don’t feel good about being too sick to move, waking up in a cold sweat for four days just because at the end of the rainbow there’s a pair of loose jeans. This isn’t sustainable any more than having a trainer and working out seven hours a week was sustainable. This isn’t real weight loss, it’s not going to put your body in better condition, and you better be able to keep something down today because quite frankly writing while lightheaded is not fun at all.”

Sigh.

I’ve been working hard to lose weight for a long time. Primarily for health reasons, and I can say that honestly because the one thing that motivated me to *actually lose weight* was a health reason. So I shouldn’t feel guilty if I have a little twinge of glee, no matter what the cause, when I get a little closer to knowing what that “healthy weight” is going to feel like when I get there.

But I do. Do I ever.

Not only because I know I didn’t lose those eight pounds under anything that could possibly be interpreted as healthy circumstances, but also because those loose jeans tapped into just how ingrained and destructive my own weight (and weight-loss) expectations are.

Falling short of your own standards is never fun. Especially not when you’re sick.

Low Sodium Pernil – Reddit Recipe

Some time ago, I saw this recipe for pernil on reddit. Today, I’m giving it a try – with, of course, a low-sodium twist.

Losing (weight) in NYC

When I first started this blog, a number of posts were about low-sodium diet options – and my own experiences as I tried to lead a healthier lifestyle. Over time, those have become some of the most long-lasting and oft-checked posts on the blog, and today when I looked at Salon.com and found this article, I thought, this is worth posting up.

The writer of that article talks about the sobering effect of seeing the calories posted at a NYC Chipotle had on him, and how it helped him adjust what he was eating to be more realistic. Apparently an average slice of pizza has about 400 calories; he blended this with healthy breakfast and low-sodium dinner choices, and a lot of walking.

Later in his weight loss, the writer steps up his routine, working in trips to the gym, etc. – and he also reflects on how important it is for changes to be life-long, not just for a limited period of time.

But mostly, he got to eat pizza every day and walk all over the city. Can a diet get any better than that?

Cookin’ up some low sodium wasabi salmon burgers…

Now that we’re nearing the end of the year, I’m once again taking stock of how things are going with my low sodium diet. I’m trying to branch out into tasty items that I can enjoy and still feel like I’m treating myself…so I was glad to find this ready-to-buy recipe for low sodium wasabi salmon burgers on Fresh Direct’s website.

Read the recipe and you’ll notice that it features no salt, just some reduced-sodium soy sauce. Now, if you’re like me and prefer to taste the actual fish rather than mostly soy sauce, you can actually cut this WAY down – or replace it with a small amount of honey with balsamic vinegar, which I’ve used in stir fry recipes to cut the sodium but retain a similar tang.

Note that I screwed up and threw the ginger in with the burgers – but I wouldn’t say it had any kind of ill effect on the final product, which I threw on a brioche roll from Trader Joe’s, lightly coated with some of the recipe’s wasabi mayonnaise (realizing later in the afternoon that I could have just bought wasabi mayo from TJ’s later on) and blanketed by a leaf of romaine lettuce.

YUM. And there are three more waiting in the fridge. The one thing that was aggravating was that they don’t stick together well, but then again, we don’t have a food processor so I was chopping everything quite fine with a knife. (I’m not one of those girls who owns everything in the kitchen, though if you feel like sending a gift certificate for Amazon I’m happy to check out their appliance section)…

Anyway – this may not be a low sodium pizza recipe handed down from my grandmother or a healthy nacho recipe discovered by me and my roommate, but it was the best salmon burger I’ve had in ages and could probably double nicely as fishcakes if you so desired. I plan to have tomorrow’s salmon burger protein-style wrapped in a lettuce leaf. Again, I say – YUM.