Free-range eggs & sad bacon

Last time you ate out for breakfast, did your menu have free-range eggs, fair trade coffee, and organic milk on it? What about the bacon – was it free range? Probably not.

In fact, 70% of pork smallgoods in this country are made from frozen imported pork from pigs grown in even worse conditions overseas.

On the very minor chance that the menu said ‘free range’, did you ask where from? Because of course we all know a lot of ‘bred free range’ bacon is sold as free range, so it’s worth knowing the difference and which farms are which.

I’m not going to name names of cafes, providores, butchers and indeed producers who may be misleading you or failing to provide free-range bacon. You can work out who they are for yourself – just ask. Ask every time you buy pork, every time you eat out. Only if you keep asking (and saying no to everything except pork from pigs grown out on the paddocks) will things change.

Here’s a list of genuine free-range pig farmers around Australia to help you decode the answer.

But just what is it with the hypocrisy of ‘free-range eggs & bacon’ – that is, free-range eggs served with sad bacon – and our general willingness to accept it?

While coffee is the new black – one restaurateur was quoted saying, “While they’re at it, we’d love to know where the beans are from and where they were roasted. Heck, we even want to know who roasted them!” I want to know – what about the bacon?

On wine, I read: “The wine list is motivated by the notion of terroir and regionality – the idea that a wine can reflect, not only the grape variety and winemaker, but the soil and site from which it’s grown and nurtured. In the same manner a dish may transport you to a specific place, a wine with terroir can carry you to a far away vineyard.”

So what about the pigs? If they’re raised in sheds, I guess there is no terroir, and in sheds they’re all roughly the same breed (mostly Landrace, aka ‘pink pigs’), so no breed variety to taste there. And you won’t usually find intensive growers standing up and telling you all about their pigs – this is not an industry that favours publicity.

To be honest, I’m over it. If I’m eating out, I ask about the provenance of the pigs. If they can’t tell me, I don’t eat pork.

If you feel like you just can’t make it without bacon that morning, substitute feta.

I’m really glad that free-range eggs are so prevalent, but until free-range bacon is in all the cafes, I prefer my breakfast at home, thanks.

Locavore bacon & eggs, biscuits & gravy

 
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A decadent staple brekky in our global repertoire of extravagance is bacon & eggs, biscuits & gravy. My Dad is from Alabama, and taught my Mama (from Oregon) to make this when they were first together, then pretty much never cooked anything ever again, except a mean barbecue.

In Australia, when I say ‘biscuits & gravy’, people say ‘what in the world are you talking about?’ And having had two requests for my biscuit recipe this week alone, I figured it’s time to share, especially since we’ve recently been enjoying ours with the first Jonai Farms ethical bacon, which ups the nom factor considerably. We much prefer ethical diets over calorie-counting ones around here…

American-style biscuits are roughly what Australians would call scones – usually more like drop scones. Today I made our biscuits with the divine buttermilk from the Butter Factory in Myrtleford. I resisted buttering the biscuits with some of Naomi’s truffle butter as well, figuring the gravy was enough. Normally, though, I use the yoghurt we make weekly with milk from the dairy on the other side of our volcano. And as we now buy our flour from Powlett Hill about 30km from us, this is serious locavore food. 😀

For those looking for your nearest free-range pig farmer, I compiled an Australia-wide list a few years ago. Flavour Crusader also has a list that may be more up to date than mine!


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Biscuits

All measurements are approximate, depending on the weather, your mood, and your desired moistness and yoghurty goodness…

2C flour

1tspn baking soda

2T butter

1C  yoghurt (or buttermilk, in which case you’ll reduce the milk quantity)

1/2C milk

Pinch salt

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Either oil a baking tray or line it with baking paper.

Mix the baking soda and salt into the flour. Cut butter into the flour. Add yoghurt (or buttermilk) and mix with a rubber spatula, then add milk to the right consistency. Think ‘drop scone’ dough…

Spoon out the amount of dough for the size biscuit you prefer – in our house, that’s usually about the size of my palm or a little smaller. Make sure they’re relatively equal in size so they cook evenly.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven. I usually turn them around mid-way through cooking as my oven is hotter at the back than the front.

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Gravy

The best gravy is made from bacon grease (otherwise it’s really just bechamel!). In the American South, there’s a huge variety of gravies, from a straight millk gravy through to one introduced to me by the gorgeous Gabriel in Oxford, Mississippi – red gravy –  which is made with tomatoes. The core ingredient seems to pretty much always be bacon grease. The simplest though, and the one we make the most often, is the one Dad taught Mama to make when they were first married.

Bacon grease – however much you end up with after making bacon for brekky (or about 1T if you’ve saved it in a jar, which is also Doing It Right)

2T flour

2C milk (pre-warmed in the microwave)

Salt & pepper to taste

While the bacon grease is still hot in the pan from makin’ bacon, add flour and stir until it browns lightly. Add warmed milk and stir continuously with a whisk until it thickens. Season to taste. Serve in a jug or bowl with ladle – your choice.

In our house, some of us like to break up our biscuits and pour the gravy over the top. Others pour the gravy on whole biscuits, and some of us even break up our bacon and sprinkle it through the biscuits and gravy. Personal preference rules! We almost never have biscuits and gravy if we aren’t having bacon and eggs – these things are made to be eaten together!

Super Delicious Aïoli in 5 minutes!

Okay, I know I said we don’t really celebrate Christmas, but in fact we still do with the extended family and hence I have a present for all of you – a simple recipe for aïoli!

I’ll start by saying I’ve made aïoli for years, but have never been entirely satisfied with the result until this version. The two keys to today’s success are most definitely the quality of the garlic and the choice of oils. In the past, I simply used extra virgin olive oil, which is often too fruity or sharp for a good mayonnaise of any sort. I found myself often compensating with extra mustard, or too much salt, hence the ‘meh’ outcomes. This version uses a mix of a mild extra virgin olive oil and grapeseed oil.

I probably don’t need to explain the reason for using good quality garlic, but I was lucky to find some locally grown globes where we are down the coast (silly me left our own garlic at home) that are very tasty indeed. Whatever you do, NEVER buy cheap Chinese garlic – aside from the obvious food miles and ‘goddess knows what they’ve put on it’ issues, it has no flavour.

Okay, enough back story. Here’s the recipe. We’ll be enjoying it tonight with crayfish and asparagus. 🙂

2 eggs

2 cloves garlic

1 T dijon mustard

juice of 1 lemon

pinch salt

1 C extra virgin olive oil

1 C grapeseed oil

Put all ingredients except the oil in a container and hand blend (I use an electric hand blender, but of course you can whisk if you like!). When combined, drizzle the oils in slowly while blending until fully emulsified. Takes about 5 minutes. Enjoy!

Simple lemony, garlicky, basil-y hollandaise

You can’t beat a hollandaise soaked stack of goodness on a slow weekend morning. My lovely fellow cook Shel introduced us to the wonders of homemade hollandaise on a decadent flyaway weekend in Merimbula back in 1997 and we haven’t looked back. I’ve Jonai’d the original recipe as we really like to give it a lift with the basil and garlic.

I’m sure Larousse would not be happy with me, as this version requires no reducing, but I’m willing to bet that you, dear readers, will not be disappointed. The lovely Zoe (of Progressive Dinner Party fame) and her family were instant converts to homemade hollandaise when we enjoyed this on our summer holiday, and her son apparently dubbed it ‘Tammandaise’, a name we now use as well. 🙂

Hollandaise Sauce

3 egg yolks

splash of white wine vinegar

juice of 1 lemon

1 clove garlic

handful basil

salt & pepper to taste

200g butter

Method

Put all ingredients except butter into a tall cup and hand blend (or you can put them in a blender). Heat butter on stovetop or in microwave until just boiling. Pour very slowly into cup with other ingredients, blending constantly. Pour over stacks of goodness, add freshly ground black pepper, and enjoy!

Some options for the stacks on which this heaven will be poured:

Eggs from your ladies in the back garden (poached in slow boiling water with 10% vinegar)

Free-range bacon, for those who like Benedict

Spinach leaves for the Florentine-inclined, but nice with Benedict too

Mushrooms (sliced and fried up, a nice addition or to substitute for the eggs so it’s not so rich)

Roast tomatoes

Avocado

Good quality (homemade?!) sourdough bread, toasted

Do you eat chicken? Could you kill one?

The recent story from the UK about the teacher who was pressured by parents to resign after slaughtering the school’s farm lamb because their children were ‘traumatised’ provoked exactly the outrage you probably expect from me on this topic. The same week, Jamie Oliver spoke of the importance of teaching children where their food comes from, focusing primarily on health rather than culture, sustainability and competence.

So here’s the story of the Jonai family raising chooks for eggs, and slaughtering and eating them when they stop laying.

A little background: we’ve had chooks since about 1997, primarily for the eggs, but also because of their contribution to a healthy garden system – they dig, eat insects and weeds, and fertilise extremely well. We move them around the garden, planting out the spot they vacate to great effect. Our system is based on the principles of permaculture, though we are fairly unorthodox in most of our gardening efforts. The one aspect of permaculture to which we are totally committed is to maintain a closed cycle – no organic waste leaves our property, which is an average sized suburban block in Melbourne.

The first few years we had chooks, we lost them occasionally to foxes or disease, and continually replenished the flock with new pullets. Then came the year Antigone brought home nine chicks that her kinder had hatched – our first time raising them from so young. Of course, probability being what it is, we ended up with a few roosters, which you’re not allowed to keep in the suburbs. The dilemma of what to do with them had an obvious, if not easy, solution – we would have to slaughter and eat them. Neither of us had ever killed our own meat, though we’d always said we should be willing to do so if we were going to be meat eaters. At last, here was our chance to practice what we preached.

The first time was definitely the hardest, but each time since has not actually been a great deal easier, insofar as it’s difficult to take a life. Roosters are truly magnificent creatures, and it seems a shame to cull them so young and glorious. But of course, all those carefully wrapped breasts and thighs in the supermarket were once lovely young (mistreated, usually) creatures, and they’re tastiest while they’re still young.

Stuart slaughters them by laying the chooks gently on a chopping block, patting their head all the while so they remain very calm and content. And then quickly, down comes the cleaver, the chook is beheaded, Stuart holds its wings so the nervous system’s reaction doesn’t result in that awful sight of a headless chook running around the yard, and then the bird is hung from the monkey bars to drain the blood.

We’ve experimented with both plucking and skinning, and unlike the intrepid Zoe’s preference, we prefer plucking so that we still have the luscious fatty skin on, which is especially important if you’re roasting a younger bird. But even with boilers, we pluck as neither of us really likes the sensation of skinning a still-warm animal.

We both find the eviscerating quite unpleasant, especially if we’re trying to keep a whole bird to roast, which requires that someone reach inside and pull the guts out – it’s rather blech. With the boilers, we cheat and cut them open at the breastbone with sharp Chinese scissors and then sort of scoop the organs out. The kids are fascinated by sorting the organs and feet on a piece of cardboard, and we either save those bits to feed to the neighbour’s dog or compost them, though we have eaten the livers from some of the roosters.

With the young roosters, I make roast chicken, chicken arrabiata and other such tasty dinners, but the old girls aren’t called boilers for nothing. And so Australia Day 2010 was our first experience of culling non-layers and making the most of them. We explained the plan to the children, who were initially a bit sad that we were going to kill the chooks, but after we reiterated the rationale for keeping, slaughtering and eating our own animals, with details they’ve heard before about the horrors of factory farming, they were back on board with the project. They feel sad about killing the chooks – I do too – but I think it’s irresponsible for omnivores to use that sadness as a justification for not exposing children (and ourselves) to the realities of what’s behind meat eating. I really think only vegans have a reasonable position from which to oppose exposure to animal slaughter.

The killing went as usual, and this time Atticus was game to help me pluck them, which made a mother proud. 🙂 The evisceration was interesting as we’d never seen the eggs inside a chook before. Zoe’s got great photos, but you can see in mine that there were some large and small – we worked out that one of the chooks was in fact still laying once or twice a week but had set up a secret nest in a little-seen corner. We were a bit sad about this discovery, but figured she would have stopped completely like the other two soon enough.

Three chooks filled my biggest stock pot, and after simmering for about six hours, we had a deeply flavoursome 18 litres of clear stock. I pulled all the meat off and finely minced some, mixed it with prosciutto, ricotta and reggiano, and the kids and I made masses of tortellini for that night’s dinner & to freeze. The resulting feast included tortellini en brodo, and a tomato and bread salad made with a variety of cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden and the stale remnants of my last loaf of homemade sourdough, dressed in olive oil pressed from last year’s harvest with the Binks. For starters we enjoyed that day’s fresh loaf of sourdough with Stuart’s olives and a tapenade. The sense of homely virtue and connection to the natural world as we enjoyed this dinner was profound, and I reflected on the fact that it’s only fairly recently in our history that we’ve lost these daily rhythms, skills and ensuing satisfaction.

Our society will almost certainly never go back to the majority of us raising our own meat. However, probably more of us than realise could do the sort of small scale livestock raising that we have in our backyard, and growers could certainly go back to or redevelop sustainable models of production, such as if egg producers were to slaughter unwanted roosters and sell them for the meat, and then sell the old non-layers as boilers, as well as the obvious need to raise chickens (and pigs) in free range environments. In the meanwhile, it’s a very simple decision to refuse to buy factory farmed meat of any type, which gives producers the message that these systems will no longer be tolerated by the public.

As for squeamishness about the killing of animals, and especially about children witnessing or taking part in the slaughtering and butchering processes, it’s obvious we have this backwards. In the UK case where children witnessed the slaughtering of the lamb, some parents actually claimed their children would need therapy to overcome the trauma. I would argue the high rates of people seeking therapy is rather about not witnessing the food chain, it’s about our lost connections – to the land, its plants and animals, to each other, and to the past. People who are engaged each day in creating things for their basic needs – by gardening, raising and slaughtering animals, cooking, building, repairing and maintaining a home and its contents – by and large enjoy a strong sense of competence, sometimes mastery. (My interviews to date support this claim across class, culture and generational differences.)

And it’s not just a sense of competence that is gained by working for your food in this way. The respect engendered by having to face your dinner and take its life in order to sustain yours cannot be overestimated. Again, my research around frugality has certainly highlighted the strong drive to waste nothing that arises from both a fear of scarcity but also a true understanding of the value of what you’ve got. And of course my own experience has been precisely that. Understanding and respecting our food sources is a great motivator to reduce our consumption – especially of the high impact foods like most meats.

Yet we’ve drifted so far from this basic principle of living thoughtfully in the world that too many people think it’s reasonable to insist that they should not be exposed to the realities of food production. It is indeed sad to kill animals. But the majority of us choose to eat them, and to eat them we must kill them, and so we must learn to do so in the most humane and sustainable manner. If every omnivore killed a chook even once in their lives, we might not be facing the serious ethical and environmental issues we have today as a result of overconsumption, and we might not be suffering the sense of disconnection and isolation that is the real trauma in our society.

Bring back competence and mastery in the everyday.

(This post is a part of Fight Back Friday @ Food Renegade)