Friday, January 14, 2011

Beyond Organic, Beyond Brooklyn . . .

My sister said I had to.

Tell this story, that is.

She visited us over the past holiday. She's not in NY that often, so when she is we usually go into Williamsburg, Brooklyn to visit our friend Greg.

After a cozy morning of lounging with coffee and Scandinavian deliciousness from Bakeri, I asked Greg about a good local butcher. Without hesitation, he suggests the Meat Hook, located within The Brooklyn Kitchen just off of Meeker. Love the name. Before I get too excited, I must remind myself that in typical hipster demeanor, reactions to all things clever must be carefully stowed beneath a cool countenance because, as any self-respecting hipster knows, BK is nothing less than immensely clever. Because it is just that, immensely clever.

So off to the Meat Hook for a Frenched rack of lamb that I would be serving to a very intimate gathering at our home in the woods. Well. That was the plan, anyway.

A letter to the Meat Hook days after my purchase:

Went to the Meat Hook on a suggestion from a friend in the neighborhood, and was really happy to find you guys. Around every corner was wave after wave of the next gadget, pan, spice, utensil which was exactly what I wanted to explore.

My mission that day was lamb as I was prepping a holiday dinner for friends and family. After discussing the option of a Frenched rack, I decided on the loin chop. The butcher cradled a carcass from the cooler and showed me exactly the spot where my meal was coming from. Honest. Respectful. Honorable. Then the whole butchering crew stopped and did the Dougie. Only in BK. Awesome.

ZZZZZzzzzzzuuuuuuoooooo went the blade, chop chop chop went the loin. Wrapped in brown paper, and $125 later, I was off to my kitchen. Now, here allow me to insert this: 10 chops @$16.+/lb.... $125?

OK. At home I unwrapped the chops to find a shocking amount of FAT around each loin. I paid for all that FAT! I am no expert, but I certainly expected the butcher to TRIM the fat from the chops. I also expected the butcher to trim the chops in a presentable way (this hanging floppy, fatty piece was flailing from the ends of each cut). After speaking to him about the Frenched rack, he should have certainly surmised that presentation was important to me. Why didn't the butcher think to trim off all this excess? No joke, at least one half of what I bought was fat. I am really disappointed that this is what I bought, and brought home. The quality of the meat was fantastic, but the butchering skills, well, I can't say the loin was butchered, but rather, not butchered enough.

So what did I do? I said to self, "Self--relax, the butcher's there must know what they are doing, just throw these bitches on the grill, and let's eat". Well, short of burning down my porch because all that crazy fat caused a serious 5-alarm "flare-up" (a tame euphemism), I had to drag the grill off the porch, onto the driveway, and rescue the now propane-blackened lamb loin. You can't make this shit up. Ironically, they were grilled perfectly MR, but hardly edible, and certainly carcinogenic. $125 of lamb.

If I was an 80 year old woman, I'd go in there, and wave my ancient purse at you guys, and raise bloody hell. So here is my summoning the future 80-year old in me: What are you going to do to ensure that you did not just lose me as a customer? Do I never again trust a butcher with a mustachio? Do I become a meat hawk and inspect and insult the experience of every butcher I now engage? I'd love to come back for the quality, experience, and destination that The BK Kitchen/The Meat Hook is, and I want you you ensure that I do. How will you do this?

The 31-yr-old 80-yr old"

The response:
"Hi, Erika! This is ---- from The Meat Hook. I'm one of the partners here and also one of the two mustaches. I just got your email and I wanted to take the time to apologize. I'm very sorry this happened to you in our shop and even more sorry it happened around the holidays. It's the policy of the shop to show you everything you buy before we wrap it up to make sure you're happy. Obviously that didn't happen this time and it's regrettable.

I'm also very grateful that you took the time to write to us. We always want to know if something goes wrong or if someone isn't happy. We always want to make it right and do right by our customers. With that in mind, I'd like to give you a $125 credit at the shop. I hope this will go
some way into making up for our mistake and making things right again. Alternately, you can pass on the credit and flog the person responsible for 2 minutes with a piece of bamboo. I leave the choice to you. If you would like the credit, would you mind emailing me your full name? I don't want to be hooking up any old Erika from the block.

In answer to your inner-80 year old woman--you should never trust a man with a mustache; especially accountants. You should also always insult your butcher. They're meddlesome by nature and need to be put in their place.

Once again, I'm sorry this happened. Let me know if there's anything else I can do to make this right.

The 30 year old 14 year old,

How 'bout that?! I am so impressed with not only the quality and sourcing of meat (my lamb came from Milan, NY not that far from where I live), but the quality of interaction of this local biz dude who wants to make sure to get it right with his local peeps. Cheers to YOU, mustachioed hero. Me? Customer for life. Seriously. If you are in/near Williamsburg, this should be your one stop to get Fleur de Sel, roasted grains for your home-brewed beer, merguez sausage, Rancho Gordo beans, and the essential Mexican hot cocoa frother.
Obviously, I have one of these. Who doesn't? Every girl should.
Thank you, Meat Hook. I ♥ you.

Beyond Organic

I recently sent out, what I called, 'A Little Manifesto' to some of my closest friends via email. My Manifesto was NOT regarding Miley Cyrus smoking Salvia divinorum out of a bong (Party in the USA?), NOT commentary on Tom Delay's conviction, NOT praising this season's prodigal return of the wide leg trouser.


Rather, I outlined my intentions for the New Year within the parameters of, something we all can't do without, FOOD.

I just re-read Michael Pollan's groundbreaker, The Omnivore's Dilemma; a consciousness-changing book, it is The Jungle of our time.

If you eat food on a daily basis, you MUST read this book.

In a feat of sincere, well-reasoned (dare I say, beautiful) prose, Pollan traces the journey of four different kinds of meals from to their origins to his mouth. He pushes aside the curtain to reveal: the industrial network that invented and supplies our current food chain; the capitalization of the organic movement, and raises the question is "commercial organic" a contradiction in terms, and/or a lesser of two evils; what happens to man and beast when it is nature that is deferred to in the management of food animals; the ethics of eating animals and the varied philosophies of that topic; lastly, what it takes to be solely responsible for the food one intakes. If you are more the book-on-tape type, here he is arguing the sustainability of our current food system at UC Davis: YouTube - Michael Pollan: The Omnivore's Dilemma.

It made me think. A lot. Not only about committing myself to eating home and locally grown produce, but also about the meat that I eat. I have long had a conflict between my head:mouth when it comes to eating animals. I was a vegetarian for years. Then, one fateful afternoon, my friend John and I walked into Gold's Delicatessen in Westport, CT.

He orders the pastrami on rye, with a celery soda. Me?

"Oh, I'll have a potato knish."
"Sorry, hun," the waitress returns. "We're all out".

While I take a moment to restrategize, John's pastrami comes out. All it took was the smell. The browned edges of the cured meat dangling excessively between the slices of rye. The dish of rich, spicy brown mustard just a dollop away.

The waitress clanked his plate down in front of him, and before she could flip the paper of her little pad, I explode, "I'll have what he's having". And that was it. Oh, I also had a cheeseburger later that evening for dinner.

John laughs at me all the time; whenever we have lunch I am either on or off the meat-eating wagon, and it results in an obligatory status update. John was a successful chef in his past life, now a fellow horticulturist, so we are always talking about food. I'm not sure you could really be a gardener without being in love with food. Fresh, bountiful harvests of produce that either you nurtured yourself, or know what it takes to be produced, is something you end up deeply appreciating.

It is because I deeply appreciate food, that reading Pollan's book a second time helped me realize where my convictions lie, and just where on that meat-eating wagon I sit. And sit on that wagon I do. Unless, tomorrow I don't . . .

I attempt to understand, and do all I can to align myself with, nature's complex processes when working in a garden. Being connected to the natural world, I cannot help but be consumed with how I fit into the cycle of consumption. As far as eating meat goes, I feel I've found a way that makes sense to me.

The animal husbandry equivalent to my garden philosophy is grass-fed, pasture-rotated animals. Pasture-raising poultry, pork, lamb, and beef ensures that the animals are fully engaged in their domesticated surroundings, fully capable of living out their numbered days grazing as their natural inclinations demand, and free from the artificial and unethical trappings of the massive commercial industry that otherwise supplies our meat and dairy. Check it: cattle graze in a biologically and nutritionally diverse "grass" pasture. They eat, they excrete. Cattle is moved on to another pasture allowing the grass to regenerate. Chickens are rotated into the pasture where they peck through and spread out the cow pies in search of larvae, grubs, that are high in protein resulting in amazing eggs and high-quality flesh. Chickens are effectively spreading manure as a result of searching for their natural food source. An effective model of symbiosis, and certainly, the lesser of the alternate evils.

Did I mention grass-fed beef is far superior in nutrients than corn-fed? Yes, it costs more. As Pollan argues, what costs more to our health and our environment is cheap, industrial meat. I want to see more than just the price tag. I want to know where these animals came from, how they were raised, visit the farm, be connected and conscious towards my choices. So if I have to eat less meat that is of higher quality and more conscientious, I am willing and wanting to.

Since humans long ago domesticated these animals, they are already, and have been for centuries, living an unnatural life. My conviction to my self is to consume animals who have been given the respect and consideration for their comfort and well-being in exchange for my meal. For me, this pasture-raised meat is a way for me to reason my carnivory. Perhaps not for you, and I welcome you to reason out your convictions for yourself.

Check out Eat Wild. There you can find a local farm near you that is committed to closing the gap between you and your food source.

For me, 'Beyond Organic' means to look beyond the packaging, the marketing, beyond the idyll of the romanticized farm. In 2011 I will connect to my local resources, and align myself and my purchasing power with new standards and responsibilities. Ask yourself, how do you live in support of your convictions? As our world spins wildly beyond our control, how will you make the wobbling stop in your world?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Resurrection

And . . . . it's been almost 2 years since my last post. (Wh-aaaa-t?)

Shame on me.

It is winter, yet again, in the Northeast, and I find myself in the same frame of mind as when I started this blog in the first place: reflective, energized, in touch.

The very reasons I started writing this blog was to channel my energy after I stopped working for Martha. There was no reason why my enthusiasm and creativity for horticulture had to end just because I was no longer working for Her. I took all that I learned from her--the delight in daily discoveries, the value of documentation, and the want for the world to know what could be seen in a heightened way--and made it my own. I am appreciative for having observed those good qualities in action during my tenure there.

Since the start of this blog, so much has been seen, noticed, recorded, unrecorded, and accomplished, that I am happy to share again with renewed focus and energy.

So where the HELL have I been?

I have had the distinct pleasure of building and being one half of ANTHROPEK Gardens Inc. This is the landscape and garden design firm that I started with Kim, my business partner, co-coworker, and fellow colleague at Martha's. We started by creating those very cool hypertufa troughs I've previously posted about, and have since been pushing and expanding our way into who we are as a business, and what we offer to the world. It has been in this endeavor that my head and heart has been devoted the past two years. The process of taking a creative lust for what one does, and directing it into a business model has been quite the education. February 2011 will mark the beginning of year 3 that we have been working, collaborating, relying, and growing with each other as business partners. Cheers to us, Kim!

So there you have that. I've also missed writing! It's another craft that I really love and enjoy. Never having been much of a physical crafter (oh, sure I've set up my sewing machine, but there are so many possibilities: napkins, bags, pillows, vintage patterns... ugh. I just can't start), I find words so effusive and exact that I can easily and comfortably patchwork anything to my heart's specifications.

I look forward to sharing with you all again, and know that this coming season will be full of interesting ideas, and plants, and places, and observations to inspire many latent posts.

Happy New Year, New Beginnings!