Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Becoming a Carnivore
I have been a relatively strict vegetarian for the last 10 years. I say "relatively," because I know there have likely been times I have consumed things made with chicken stock, or devoured eggs that grazed a piece of bacon on the brunch platter. I have never been that vegetarian who demands her food be cooked in a separate pan which has never touched an ounce of meat. I have never chosen an inferior Mexican restaurant simply because it is the only one in a 50 mile radius serving vegetarian refried beans. And I have certainly never been the vegetarian who refuses a home cooked meal from someone who has no clue I am a vegetarian, and who places a meat dish in front of me after slaving in the kitchen all day. On occasion, I am a vegetarian who eats meat.
Growing up, I was never too interested in the meat dishes served by my parents. Like all kids, I loved bacon and sausage for breakfast, and pepperoni pizza with pineapple was my meal of choice in high school. However, if mom put a chicken leg in front of me for dinner, I would lick off the barbeque sauce, then pick at the meat in disgust. After reading The Omnivore's Dilemma in college, I was pretty convinced that I needed to cut meat from my diet completely.
For a majority of the time, being a vegetarian is simple. Mark Bittman has an awesome vegetarian cookbook, and most meals you confront in the outside world are served with vegetarian sides. Almost every restaurant is willing to be flexible when you are looking for meat-free options, and some even specialize in this. However, it does get trickier with a kiddo. For one thing, meat and protein are an important part of the human diet. We vegetarians talk a lot about eating only natural things, but consuming meat is one of the most natural things I can think of (it's the way the animals are treated, butchered, and served that causes the problems). Children need protein, and animal protein cannot be replaced by un-animal things, no matter how many legumes it contains. I may have a personal cause, but I cannot let my cause affect the health and well-being of my offspring. Also, I kind of think that kids should choose for themselves. After all, they are human beings, and a basic human right is choice. I let Everett pick out his shoes, his toys, and his books. Why would I then dictate his nutritional choices?
Because of these reasons, since Everett was born I have been buying organic, free range meat to balance his diet. And because I do not wish to poison my child or give him something inedible, I test everything I serve to him before forcing it down his throat. Therefore, I consume a little meat whenever it is served to him.
Lately, I have been cooking meat on a larger scale. I have made a couple pots of pulled pork, tried my hand at braised beef, and made a superduper chuck roast. Cooking meat is the easiest way to have a lot of food for many meals - I am over vegetarian chili!
We have been frequenting the Kendall Yards Night Market, which is a farmer's market for Spokane area producers held every Wednesday night. One of the regular booths is from Spokane Family Farms. We get Everett's milk from them whenever possible, and they offer whole chickens at a reasonable price (among other meat options) at the market.
The meat sold by the family offered everything I was looking for: local, free range, natural, yada yada yada. So I bought a chicken. While I was waiting for one of the workers to grab my future dinner from the freezer, another gal offered to show me pictures of the animals at the farm. After nodding and smiling over the happy animals running through the green pastures, the worker deposited 4 pounds of frozen bird in my hands. I looked at the now petrified critter, and let me tell you, based on the pictures I saw, this animal lived the good life.
Since the next day was my #telecommuting day, I planned to research chicken preparation options over my morning cup of coffee. I put the bird in the refrigerator to thaw (because that's what Julia Child told me to do), then determined that my method of preparation would be roasting - in my fantastic Le Creuset Dutch oven.
A few hours later, it was time to start. I unwrapped the bird, laid it on my carefully prepared "meat" cutting board, then went to work. Unfortunately, it was still frozen solid after many hours in the refrigerator. After consulting websites, YouTube videos, and my food guru, Katelyn, I discovered that the little lady was still frozen because she was still fully intact - all internal organs were still attached and frozen solid to the cavity of the bird. Thus began my thawing of the bird in a bucket of water. Let me tell you how attractive THAT looks.
When the little lady was soft enough to manipulate, I was able to open up her...flaps(?)...and see the junk inside her trunk. Per Katelyn's suggestion ("Just yank them out.") I took off my rings, reached my hand up in her business, grabbed, and pulled as hard as I could. NOTHING. "Get a wooden spoon and stick it in there. That's what I do, then shake it over the sink." I tried, and tried, and tried again. The gizzards were stuck, and excuse my language, but that bird had a really tight ass, and nothing was penetrating that business. I wish I could say I was elbow-deep in chicken gizzards at this point, but I was not lucky enough to suffer such a fate. Instead, now I had a bird with a mutilated ass, sitting tits up in a bucket of bloody water in my kitchen sink.
I should probably also mention my germ phobias. I guess subconsciously one of the reasons I gave up meat was because I was hospitalized for e coli during college. I started getting terrible symptoms right after eating a chicken dish (of all things) from a Vietnamese restaurant in Spokane. Not to worry, this establishment closed shortly after a few other people got sick eating the same dish; we know this because we tried to have them cover my hospital bills, but the owners flew the coop (pun). Since this debacle, I am the psycho who runs around the kitchen bleaching things as I go. I kid you not, with all the reaching and ramming, then YouTube-ing and Google-ing, grabbing and mutilating, then texting Katelyn every 2 minutes, I went through half a bottle of hand soap by this point. And it was the expensive hand soap I bought in Iceland, too!
At this point in the process I was getting frustrated. I did the most logical thing I could think of and called Spokane Family Farms to complain about this farce. I found their number on the bloody bird wrapper and dialed. "They should know that they overcharged me for this bird! If I'm going to spend this much money, shouldn't they have at least gutted the bird?" They didn't answer the phone, which was probably for the best...
So I bugged Katelyn instead. Her next suggestion was to work the organs out from a different angle. This meant my next job was to cut out the bird's spine. After watching YouTube videos of successful removal of chicken organs, I knew that I was in danger of severing something disgusting, causing a bigger mess than what I was already dealing with. Nevertheless, this was my only option, so I set about cutting a creature's spine from its body.
Crackle, crackle, crunch, CRACK, crackle, crunch...
"Everything is normal...this is all normal...there is nothing weird at all happening right now." I coached myself through the process and ended in success. The bird was backless, I could see everything inside, and I was finally able to remove all the bits and pieces. It's a good thing the organs were still a little frozen, because I did all this without popping anything putrid. Success! I texted Katelyn a picture (poor Katelyn!) and she confirmed that everything was clean and ready to go.
I set the girl back on the cutting board, boob-side up, and pulled off a few rogue feathers. After catching my breath for a few seconds, I got started on the next task. I was to push firmly on the breast until it broke and lay flat on the cutting board. So I did as instructed (by Katelyn), performing chest compression CPR on the breast bone until CRUNCH, it popped down.
BTW this whole hulabaloo I just went through is called "spatchcocking." I cut off the bird's wings at the joint, and was officially done spatching the cock. Spatchcock.
The celebration party did not last long, as I realized 2 hours of my life had been wasted attempting to remove organs from a chicken. I had invested a lot of time preparing the bird, but I still had another 2 hours left of flavoring, browning, and cooking.
When Jeff returned home around 7, it was officially an hour after I usually feed Everett. The poor little guy was starving by then and in a foul mood. However, when I removed the chicken from the oven, it was so tender that the meat was literally melting off the bone. While I cut the chicken into servings, I told Jeff about my adventurous day. He also wanted to see the pictures I took of the carcass for some reason. We soon sat down for dinner as a family and dug in.
I cut off a morsel of chicken breast and slowly brought it to my mouth. I breathed in, and it smelled like heaven. I brought it to my mouth and set it gently on my tongue. It was flavored to perfection and seemed to dissolve before I had a chance to chew. "Mmmmmm...Yummy." We ate in silence.
I looked over at Jeff after a couple minutes. He was chewing slowly and staring at me sideways with a worried expression on his face. The last time I saw him eating in this manner was when we ordered oysters from a chain restaurant (spoiler alert: they were disgusting).
"You don't like it?" I asked.
"I am savoring every moment of this because I know you will never cook a chicken like this again."
And he is right. I do not have it in me to take a lovely creature from its happy home, then spend WAY too much money on something that caused so many negative feelings. At one point I asked myself why I didn't just buy a Foster Farms chicken. After all, isn't butchering the poor FF creatures saving them from a life of misery? Trapped in a cage, eating food that isn't natural, and getting pumped with hormones? Sounds like a favor to me! And they are so cheap! Win-win!
Alas, I do not see any chicken consumption in my future. I will continue to buy an organic breast or two for Everett, but I personally cannot do the whole roasted chicken thing at this phase of life. It will take some time for me to get over the horror of my last #telecommuting day.
To add insult to injury, today was garbage day. Everything within a 10 foot radius of our garbage can currently smells like rotting chicken carcass. No amount of plastic bags will protect the world from raw chicken gizzards festering in a 90 degree garbage can.
Screw you, Delicious Chicken! Thank you for being delicious, but we are officially OVER.