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Posts Tagged ‘grass fed beef’

When we got to the Hanover Farmers’ Market yesterday, thunder was rumbling in the not-too-far distance.  We wouldn’t be able to linger.  I went straight for the Cedar Circle Farm booth, where I was almost overcome by the vivid colors spread before me!

I spent all the cash in my pocket on this pile of (always organic) beauty:

cedar circ vegs

When we got back to my parents’ house at the far end of Turnpike Road in Norwich, it was still too hot to turn on the oven or even think systematically about a meal.  I pulled out a tub of hummus, and we used it as dip for the celery (the most celeryish celery I’ve ever tasted!) and the sungolds.

In spite of the sky–another storm brewing after some hot sun–we decided to cook out.

dark clouds over the back hill

dark clouds over the back hill

We had some grass fed ground beef from Hogwash Farm, so we decided to do burgers, corn on the cob, and a big chopped salad combining the tomatoes, some peppers, radishes from Killdeer, and cucumbers and herbs from our garden.  Dressed with a bit of mustard vinaigrette, it was flavorful, cool, and perfectly satisfying.

This is the only season when a raw salad like that, with little adornment or special treatment, tastes so vivid.

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Everything was burning yesterday evening.  For the most part, in the best way.

First, I roasted the two bunches of beets–chioggia and golden–and some of the juice oozed out of the foil onto the cookie sheet.  The whole house smelled of burned beet slime.  The result of roasting, however, was delicious: warm beet salad dressed lightly with vinaigrette, sprinkled with chives, salt, and pepper, and covered with crumbled local goat cheese.

My parents’ best friends, the Ashleys, came down the steep driveway from their house for dinner.  Dad mixed martinis and mojitos (for different people–we didn’t mix).  We sat in the sun on the deck.  The tiki torches were flaming.  We snacked on corn chips and hummus, and the tender, nutty Cobb Hill cheese named Ascutney Mountain (for the Green mountain just south of here).

Ascutney chs

Along with a colorful salad made from our farmers’ market haul, we had sweet corn on the cob from Killdeer Farm, and those sausages from Hogwash Farm–Beer Bratwurst and Chorizo–which promptly caught on fire when Dad put them on the grill.  We moved them around, and the flames gave chase (it always cracks me up when baseball announcers use that phrase!).  In the end, there were some spots of char, but not too many, and the sausages were succulent.

This pyromeal was followed by a campfire, up on the hillside behind the Ashleys’ house, at their well-used fire pit.  The grown-ups nursed our drinks and constructed perfectly melted s’mores, while the boys torched marshmallows, pinecones, leftover Christmas candles, anything that would burn.

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A good time was had by all.

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I am in wholehearted agreement with the motivation behind the New York Times editorial of a few days ago, “Farms and Antibiotics,” and with the legislation it promotes, which aims to drastically reduce the amount of antibiotics used in raising meat.   The figures in this editorial are staggering.  There are so many good reasons to pass this legislation: the overuse of antibiotics leads to super-resistant bugs that can affect human and animal health; the animals are given antibiotics not because they are sick, but to prevent them from getting sick, which surely would happen because of the crowded and confined conditions in which they are raised, and because of the unnatural diet they are fed to fatten them up faster than their bodies can handle; antibiotics in farm run-off (i.e. manure) leach into ground- and open water.

But the problem will not be easy to solve.  It would be simplisitic to think that it’s just a bunch of bad-boy capitalist farmers injecting their animals with too many drugs in the name of profit.   Those farmers are stoking, yes, but are also feeding an insatiable appetite for meat.  The change won’t come with legislation alone but with massive shifts in the American (and first world in general) diet–away from cheap meat–and toward more easy access to healthy, whole foods.  Legislation to limit antibiotic use on factory farms will need to be accompanied by some consciousness raising about the unsustainable scale of the meat industries, and with many more legislative actions. (Michael Pollan had some great suggestions for what these might be, in his pre-election open letter, “Farmer In Chief.”)

The road blocks to changing the first world diet might better be described as an intricate and incredibly strong mesh, made up of socioeconomic inequalities, socioeconomic history, and the history of the food industry and of the first world diet.  A century and a half ago, fresh beef was a specialty food of the wealthy.  That all changed with the invention of refrigeration in the late nineteenth-century.  First came the icebox in upper-class homes; then came ice-cooled warehouses, both of which were unreliable but which led to greater changes .  Then came compressed-air, and electric refrigeration–in homes, in warehouses, on trains, in steamers.  The growth of the refrigeration industry, which was directly related to that of beef, completely changed the culture of meat consumption.  Large-scale cattle farms, slaughter-houses, and warehouses, and the increasing demand they were set up to meet, displaced small-scale businesses of all sorts, and introduced the factory-farming of cattle.  This was when grain-fed beef and the first CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) were implemented.  As supply increased, demand increased, and prices fell.  And now here we are, habituated to a diet of cheap, abundant beef that we are finally recognizing to be unsustainable.  (A compelling and carefully researched description of this history can be found in the new book by Susanne Freidberg, Fresh: A Perishable History.)

The reduction of antibiotic use in cattle will have to go along with a reduction in beef consumption, but because of the socioeconomic realities of beef consumption, this won’t change easily.  We all know that highly processed, “fast food” is cheaper and easier for many to get than fresh, whole foods.  This socioeconomic disparity will have to be addressed as well. (Salmon and shrimp are fast becoming the new beef: the prices are dropping and the antibiotic use is going up.  The Times had a chilling article the other day about antibiotic use by salmon farms in South America.)

If you have the means, switching to grass fed beef is a good idea, but it will only help to keep beef production sustainable if the beef is local and eaten infrequently.  Speaking of which… it’s been a few weeks since I’ve been to Cloudland Farm….

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The other day, I went back to visit friends from high school, whom I hadn’t seen in about fourteen years, in the town I haven’t visited much since then.  Why not, I can’t really explain.

It was one of the strongest experiences of sense-memory: watching the curve of the off-ramp come into view; feeling the curve in the tilt of my car; knowing when to slow down.  Driving from the Putney Road strip into the little downtown: they’ve redirected traffic, one way past the Common now, so where I expected the stop sign I’d failed to stop at during driver’s ed.—with the bulldog-owning bulldog of a teacher jamming on the breaks—there was none.  Past the library on the right, where I’d spent so many after-school afternoons.  Down the slope.

I can’t believe how much has stayed the same over the decades. The same businesses with the same awnings, not updated in twenty years. (The sign remains for the Common Ground, though the restaurant is no more.  It was a true hippy spot: a cooperatively run restaurant, on the second floor, with creaky floorboards, a bottomless bowl of salad with great tahini dressing, and dense, buttery cornbread.)
common ground

Over other storefronts, new signs : shiny, with spiffy, computer-designed lettering, but keeping in the spirit of the town–a store selling natural body products, another new-age bookstore.  I parked on Main Street, across from The Shoe Tree—there for as long as I can remember.  Above those buildings to the left (east) I see the top of Wantastiquet, that huge hump of a mountain I’d walked up and down with these friends so many times, (and remember parking in its secluded parking lot at night), rising up abruptly from its foot in the Connecticut River.
wantastiquet

I looked up Elliot St. and saw that familiar block between Main Street and the Harmony Lot, where we’d always circled slowly a few times before finding a spot.  There was McNeill’s Brewery on the left, Maple Leaf Music on the right, where I had my first real job (lots of dusting and re-alphabetizing of sheet music).  Just across Elliot Street, down the beginning of the steep hill to Flat Street, was the slanted storefront of Mocha Joe’s coffee shop, where I had my second, and probably favorite, job.  Everything inside was exactly the same.  Four steps down to the counter, display of Bodum pots, tea things, and tee shirts on shelves on the left, a little round table to the right, and the milk-sugar station, the high counter straight ahead.  They were playing The Smiths.  That sounds familiar.

I saw Shannon first at a table at the center of the same ancient-stylized floor painting of a bird’s head in a circular design.  She looked like Shannon.  She said, “you walked right past Ham.”  He was at the counter.  We gave each other a big hug.  I was shaking!  Shannon said she’d reached Amy, who had said she’d be here.  We waited just a few minutes and saw her coming down the stairs, looking exactly like herself.  She said, “I saw you on the street, and thought, yup, that looks like her.” It’s hard to express the feelings in all of our looks and hugs.  We’d known each other so well, and then had been so far apart.  We all felt as if we couldn’t explain why we’d lost touch. We stayed there for a few minutes and then walked down the hill toward the bridge to New Hampshire to the Riverview Café.  We sat on the deck above the river, looking over at Wantastiquet—that mountain that figures so prominently in my memories of high school.
wantastiquet bridge
Our personalities were the same, though we were all more comfortable in our own skin, and talked more like adults, less like self-conscious teenagers.  I remember all of their voices so well. And their laughs, mannerisms, bodies.  It was like seeing distant cousins you used to know well, but more complicated.  We didn’t do much reminiscing in part, I think, because our group memories weren’t always happy.  There was also the feeling that we didn’t need to repeat old stories: the stories were in the air around us.  We had so many shared memories, they were there in our looks more than our words.  We had a decade and a half to catch up on.  The fourteen years when we became “grown-ups” and made our lives what they are now.

One has traveled all over the world and lives in New York City, where he writes headlines for The New York Times; another lives in her childhood house, farms the land of Circle Mountain farm, and sells her organic eggs and produce to the locals; a third is a scientist studying the impact of climate change on different species, and on humans.  I’m working on a Ph.D. in literature and writing a blog about local food, living in Alabama, and moving to Rome.  All of these endpoints, and the paths that took us there, make perfect sense for who we were and at the same time seem paradoxically outlandish.  When I told Amy my dissertation was about eighteenth-century British literature, we both started laughing.  Shannon laughed at herself for knowing so much about the different beetles that are killing off the trees of New England.  Hamilton laughed about having a job that feels like professional ADD, and Amy said, “I’m a farmer,” and we all laughed.

Walking with them, back up to Mocha Joe’s, where Ham went in for another coffee, and then up Elliot St. and around the corner into the Harmony lot, felt so familiar.  My feet, legs, body, eyes remembered all of the little details: even the concrete sidewalks haven’t been updated. There was the little triangle of grass at the corner of the lot and the street that always gets trodden down to mud. The lot, and the back doors of old buildings leading to the same shops (The Book Cellar, Galanes’) were exactly the same.

As I drove up the hill, I remembered—in a deep mind/body memory—the little y intersections and nineteenth-century houses along the streets that led up to Western Ave.  I took a right onto the interstate, but if I’d gone straight, the third right would have been Orchard Street, the hill I walked up and rode my bike up so many times, to Meetinghouse Lane, and home.

Incidentally, the food we had was mostly local: goat cheese salads, grass fed cheddar-bacon burger, pulled pork.  We ate and talked.   The hours went by, and we barely noticed.

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It’s a comfort, shaping meatballs.  Only my fingertips touch, shape, nudge, they are so delicate. Unlike the muscle and torque involved in kneading bread, the pressure here has to be slight.  The way you might hold an infant’s foot.

Yes, I know. I’m talking about raw meat.  But I love making these meatballs in part because I use a recipe from a friend I’ve lost touch with, and they remind me of the dinners he cooked for us–at once so scrupulous and so lax.  Jonathan was exact about ingredients, cooking temps and times, the composition of courses.  And relaxed about the way the evening stretched late into the night, about lipstick marks on wine glasses–from previous drinkers–about the terrifying mess in the kitchen.

We had a delicious rivalry.  He would cook us a multi-course meal with wines to match, and we’d follow up the next weekend at our apartment, just up the hill from his, on Euclid Ave. in Berkeley.  It went on, as we attempted amicably to one-up each other.

The meatballs were one of the best meals.  Here is his basic recipe, as I remember it, which came from his Nonna, his Italian grandmother.

Jonathan’s Meatballs

1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1/2 eggshell water
1/3 c. fresh bread crumbs
small handful chopped parsley
4 cloves garlic, minced
plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper or some red pepper flakes for spice

Combine all ingredients, and shape gently into meatballs, either large or small.  Cook over moderate heat in an oiled or buttered pan, turning occasionally, until done.  Serve immediately.

Tonight, I had the luxury of local grass fed ground beef, local fresh eggs, and of course local herbs.  I substituted blanched garlic scapes for the garlic cloves.


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Beef Cattle in Pasture

If you like meat, you’d enjoy a trip to the Lambert-Powell Meats Lab store at Auburn University.  They carry eggs, all kinds of cuts of beef and pork, fat packs of ground beef, and sausage in many varieties of traditional spice combinations, including chorizo and fennel-seed-dotted sweet Italian.  (The smoked sausage is delicious grilled and smothered in spicy mustard.) They also occasionally offer grass fed beef, which I prefer to buy because it’s produced more sustainably than its conventional, grain fed counterpart.

The distinction between grass fed and grain fed beef is pretty simple to explain, but the differences in the effects of these two production methods on the environment and human health are drastic.  Here’s how Heidi Finegan, the Research Associate in the Department of Animal Sciences at Auburn, describes the differences in the production methods:

Grass fed beef is just that, beef that is grown only on forages (the term “forage” encompasses many grasses and legumes).  Most beef you buy in the grocery store is finished on grain and considered “regular beef” by many consumers.  Generally, beef cattle are raised alongside their mothers in a pasture until they are weaned at 6-8 months of age, weighing around 500-550 pounds.   After weaning, they will remain on grass until they reach about 800 pounds.  At this point, they will be shipped to the mid-west to enter a commercial feedlot where they will be “finished” on a grain diet until reaching harvest weight at 1000-1200 pounds.  This usually takes around 100 days and the average age of harvest beef is 18-22 months.  So, the main distinction lies in the fact that some cattle never have grain and are marketed as “Grass fed” while feedlot cattle are grain fed.

Even though the grain-finished method is preferred by the beef industry and many consumers, because it takes less time and results in the flavorful white-fat marbling familiar to meat-eaters, it entails many problems.  I won’t go deeply into them, but let me offer a brief list to get your imagination going on some consequences of raising beef on an industrial scale: e. coli, antibiotics, manure “lagoons,” mass-production-style slaughter (or would that be destruction?), fossil fuels, fossil fuels, and more fossil fuels.  This week, Jane Brody wrote about beef in her weekly column for the New York Times, and proposed that “a reduced dependence on livestock for food could help to save the planet from the ravaging effects of environmental pollution, global warming and the depletion of potable water.”  She quotes Dr. Barry Popkin, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, who says that, “in the United States, livestock production accounts for 55 percent of the erosion process, 37 percent of pesticides applied, 50 percent of antibiotics consumed, and a third of total discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface water.”

And we all know that meat consumption contributes to the high rates of heart disease in the U.S.

Grass fed beef offers many advantages.  Heidi says that:

Grass fed cattle are easier to manage, are more cost effective to the producer, and play a key role in sustainable agriculture.  Properly managed grazing patterns can help maintain soil productivity and keep forages in healthy conditions where they can protect soil from erosion and fix nitrogen.  Local producers can also cut out shipping and delivery costs by keeping cattle on their own property and not sending them to Kansas or Texas.  Some negatives to grass fed productions are that it will take a longer amount of time for cattle to reach optimal harvest weight and as the animal ages the tenderness and quality of meat declines.

Some would dispute the point about quality.  Many foodies claim that there is a terroire aspect to grass fed beef—that the particular qualities of the forage and soil come through in the meat, and that the flavors of California- and Vermont-raised grass fed beef are different.  The distinctness of the flavor of grass fed beef may also be a result of contrast.  If you’re used to the water-bloated mass-produced steak from the big chain supermarkets, this beef will be a new experience.  Perhaps nutritional content affects flavor too: grass fed beef contains less saturated fat, and more antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids than grain fed beef.  Heidi also pointed out that beef is high in zinc, vitamin B, and iron.

If you love a juicy steak, it seems that the best way to go is to buy grass fed, and only on occasion. But grass fed beef is not widely available yet, so when we just need to celebrate with steak and red wine, I’ll buy grain fed New York steaks from the Auburn meats lab.  At least I know it’s local and raised with education in mind. My favorite toppings for salt-and-pepper seasoned burgers are Colemans mustard, a tomato slice, and fresh basil leaves.  For steaks, simplest is best: I rub them all over with a fresh rosemary sprig (then stick some leaves in the fat-crevices), sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and grill to mid-rare.

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