Oh sure, every once in awhile (mostly when Walu goes out of town to a conference), I go on a meat-cooking binge, almost always with uniformly dismal results. My hamburgers/chicken breasts/steaks/etc. are always dry and puck-like, and nearly inedible. It seems to be a skill that requires some practice to get it right.
The truth is, though, I don't really miss it. What I've lost in the ability to cook meat, I've gained in the invention of delicious, rib-sticking vegetarian meals. And if you think that last statement is oxymoronic, then you've only eaten vegetarian meals prepared by people who are not vegetarians (or living with vegetarians) themselves.
And mind you, I haven't stopped eating meat myself--for example, I'll sometimes cook up a mess of ground beef on occasion to throw into my own, separate pot of spaghetti sauce. It's hard to wreck ground beef, after all. Other than that, however, I let restaurants cook it for me. It's a system that has worked just fine for many years now. So why change it?
Here's why: PaiDom Meats
The prairie is a grazing ecosystem, so it makes environmental sense to have a agricultural economy that recognizes that. PaiDom does, and is making a go of a family farm operation that is environmentally responsible, sustainable, organic, humane, and free-range.
I first heard of PaiDom a few years years ago, when I got wind of people buying meat in a parking lot at a local hardware store, as if it were some sort of drug deal. I got more intrigued when I found out that one of my students, Erin Hoelting (now a former student serving in the peace corps; see her blog here), was actually related to the farm family selling the meat. I know Erin and trust her, so when she said these people are intent on finding a more environmentally sustainable approach, it sounded like something worth supporting. Even so, given my lousy track record with cooking meat, it wasn't until a couple of months ago that I signed up for the email list, and it wasn't until last week that I finally screwed up my courage to place an order.
Here's what I got:
- 1 pound pork breakfast sausage
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1 pound bacon (seasoned)
- 1 dozen eggs
On Saturday, I showed up in the parking lot at the appointed time and Alan Birkenfeld, owner of the operation (and Erin's second cousin), was already there with his pickup truck, handing out boxes to a waiting crowd. In comparison, my order was so tiny that it came in a sack, rather than a box, but that didn't seem to matter to him. Birkenfeld was still pleasant and gracious (and younger and more "normal-looking" than I expected--for some reason I pictured some grizzled old coot; not that there's anything wrong with being a grizzled old coot...).
The meat was frozen, and I put half the ground beef in the freezer, and the rest of the order in the refrigerator to thaw, planning to cook some right away, and to separate the rest into single-sized portions to re-freeze. So far I've had pork sausage, bacon, and eggs for breakfast (not all the same breakfast) and chili mac for supper. The meat tastes different from store-bought fare: it is leaner and the pork products are not as salty. The eggs are so fresh that they stand up in the skillet like little soldiers.
I was going to take a picture to show you, but I kept eating the subject matter.
I don't know if I'll keep doing this--after so many years of not cooking meat, it feels weird and the house smells different. Still, it seems important to support this sort of effort. The truth of the matter is that this ecosystem evolved with the bison, and while free-range cattle are not a perfect substitute for them, they are closer to what's supposed to be here than a stand of cotton is. If we are going to continue to live here, we need to be paying attention to this and supporting the growth of environmentally sensible agribusinesses.
Plus, you get to buy meat in a parking lot. What's not to like about that?
And, um, I'm taking cooking tips, if you have any to share.