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Archive for the ‘Humane livestock management’ Category

Brook and Rose LeVan raise heritage turkeys on their Colorado ranch.

Brook and Rose LeVan raise heritage turkeys on their Colorado ranch, Sustainable Settings.

Every year at this time, my family and I duke it out over the turkey. It’s not about, “Should we brine it or deep-fry?” or, “Do we baste it with cultured butter made by blind Norman nuns or massage it with a dry-rub of hand-harvested spices grown on an 8th-century Kerala plantation?”

Sorry to disappoint, but with the Miller’s, the conversation always comes down to this (the following are direct quotes I’ve received from family members this month):

“I found a pre-brined turkey at Trader Joe’s. ”

“Why would you pre-order a turkey? You’re the only one who cares about its upbringing.”

So, despite the Butterball currently residing in my parents’ refrigerator (my flying in from out-of-state makes lugging a fresh turkey from a friend’s farm logistically impossible), I’d like to share my recent Edible Aspen article on pasture-raised turkeys.

In this big, complicated country of ours- where we have so many choices with regard to our food supply–  it’s about doing the best you can. Armageddon will not occur when said Butterball lands on the dinner table- but I firmly believe that as consumers all, we have a moral obligation to educate ourselves and our children about where our food comes from. As consumers, we deserve to have access to that information, regardless of our socioeconomic status. Wholesome, responsibly-raised and -grown food shouldn’t be a luxury for anyone, but realistically, we must rely upon integrated agriculture to feed our growing domestic- and global- population.

Worrying about how my Thanksgiving turkey was raised is a First-World problem, and for that, I’m thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, America.

Photo love: Epicurious

Photo love: Epicurious

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A. So a truck could run it over, enabling a guy with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth to scoop it up 30 seconds later and cook it for breakfast.

True story.

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Meet Alison Krauss; last year's name them was "music."

Meet Alison Krauss; last year’s name theme was “music.”

To know me is to…know I have a thing for goats. Get your minds out of the gutter; I just mean that I adore caprines. Intelligent as dogs, with the individualized personalities of mules (two of my other fave furry critters), they’re also milk-making machines that yield the main ingredient for some of the world’s most delectable cheeses.

As if these aren’t reasons enough to dig goats, there’s nothing on this earth- nothing!– as adorable as their offspring. This is why, every spring, I willingly deprive myself of sleep and pull all-nighters at the dairies of cheesemaker friends near and far, so I can selfishly have 24/7 access to baby goats, and the birthing, bottle-feeding, and cuddling that go with.

Sweet dreams are made of this.

I’m lucky to have award-winning Avalanche Cheese Company as a neighbor; last year I helped out with kidding and had the honor of being one of the first guests in the historic, renovated farmstay cabin at their dairy in Paonia. Formerly, it was cheesemaker Wendy Mitchell and family’s part-time home; they now live in Aspen full-time since she opened her insanely awesome restaurant/farm shop, Meat & Cheese. Which isn’t to say Wendy’s not still totally involved with life at the dairy and creamery, because she’s one of those freaks of nature possessed of boundless energy, ideas, and entrepreneurial prowess (luckily for us, her consumer base).

Happy hour at the cabin (cheese & salumi welcome basket included). Photo love: Avalanche Cheese Company

Happy hour at the cabin (cheese & salumi welcome basket included). Photo love: Avalanche Cheese Company

As the new Blog Creator for Edible Aspen, I ensured our first post was about Avalanche’s agriturismo, because their kidding season just kicked off and there’s no better time in which to spend a day or three on the farm. You can help out with the chores (no more bottle-feeding; this year, they’ve switched their herd management to the all-natural method of leaving the kids with the does until their weaned, more on that in my Edible post). But you can still spend time with the babies, chill out in one of the most scenic- and least-touristed- parts of Colorado and most important, totally get your goat geek on.

For booking info and the full post, click right here, s’il vous plaît.

Happy chevre season, and thanks to culture: the word on cheese for the link lovin’.

 

 

 

 

 

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Yes, I slaughtered this lamb. Don’t judge.

People (and by “people,” I mean, friends, visitors to my home, landlords, and former boyfriends) often ask me, “Laurel, why are you such a freak? What is it that compels you to collect animal skulls and other skeletal fragments?” The former boyfriends are also wont to comment, “Laurel, your obsession with forensic reality TV and willingness to participate in livestock and poultry slaughter frightens me.” Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m impervious to animal urine, shit, vomit, and roadkill. Changing a diaper? Hells no. Curing the skull from a found deer carcass for three months as a cool “souvenir” from a summer living in Telluride? No problem.

From a work standpoint, my editors love that I’m also a human garbage can, willing to eat anything (sketchy street food, insects, tadpoles, animal testicles and weird meaty odds and ends). They’re somewhat baffled by my enthusiasm, but as long as it results in a good story, they’re cool with it.

I’ve given my strange proclivities a lot of thought, and the only source of blame I can point to is my dad, Dr. Robert M. Miller, aka RMM, Bob, or “Doc.” Most people assume that being the child of a veterinarian (a large and exotic vet, at that) isn’t all that different from having a parent who’s an MD, if they think about it at all.

At the castration of a circus elephant. No, really.

At the castration of a circus elephant.  I was allowed to miss school for this. No, really.

Nothing could be further from the truth. When your dad is a large animal vet, you grow up with a very skewed idea of normal. My older brother and I never got the birds-and-the-bees talk, but by first grade, I knew what AI (artificial insemination) was, and how it’s done. One of my favorite pastimes was hanging out at my dad’s clinic, gaping at what my sibling and I dubbed “The Shelf of Horrors.” It was stocked with dozens of jars of formaldehyde-pickled specimens: Horse fetuses, a two-headed calf fetus, and other pre- and post-natal abnormalities and floaty bits and pieces. It both fascinated and repelled me, but I know I spent more time there than was probably healthy for a formative mind.

I started going on calls with my dad at age five. As a result, I became very cavalier about removing stiches, loading syringes, fetching drugs and supplies, watching rectal palpations (I was in my late teens before I realized what K-Y jelly was really used for- true story), and assisting with surgeries and necropsies (the animal version of an autopsy). On one occasion, we necropsied one of my prized 4-H show rabbits, which were all dying of a horrific mystery disease. We were told to send their eyelids to the UC Davis vet school for pathology. The results came back positive for myxomatosis, a deadly virus amongst wild rabbits that hadn’t been seen in California since the 19th century. As a result, my family obtained the first trial vaccines in the U.S., which were, er, gifted us from a French veterinarian. My dad also administered my family our annual flu shots- as a kid, I had a deathly fear of needles, and one year, fed up with my namby-pamby attitude, he injected himself in the thigh with a horse syringe. “Look!” he shouted. “Do you see me crying?” Needless to say, I got over it.

A bear getting dental surgery

A bear with a bit of a toothache.

I mention all of this because on July 18, my 87-year-old father required open heart surgery to replace the defective aortic valve he didn’t realize he had. I flew from Colorado to the small Southern California ranch where I grew up, and my brother and his family came down from Lake Tahoe. The night before his operation, Dad played his harmonica while my 18-year-old nephew accompanied him on acoustic guitar. We were all extremely concerned about the procedure, mostly due to Dad’s age, despite his active lifestyle and overall good health. He sailed through the surgery, but at 3am, we received a call from the hospital that he had pulmonary edema and unexplained bleeding, and was being rushed back into surgery for what turned into a second open heart operation to replace his mitral valve.

Since the initial surgery, Dad has been heavily sedated, because he keeps trying to remove his trach tube and IVs (we’d expect nothing less; he’s a feisty SOB). While he hasn’t actually been conscious during our visits, he’s responded to some questions with hand squeezes (most notably, “Are you ready to go to Hawaii?”).  He’s scheduled to lecture at the Hawaii Horse Expo next month, and cancelling isn’t an option, as far as he’s concerned.

Hitting the slopes in the early 50s

Hitting the slopes in the early 50s

Dad has, in fact, cancelled only two speaking engagements in his 50-year-plus career. The first was when I was born, three weeks early (something I’m still getting grief about from both parents; my untimely arrival forced them to cancel their annual veterinary ski meeting), and this week’s seminar at the AVMA conference.

Over the past decade, Dad has had more surgeries than I can readily count (mostly to replace/ remove/repair failed body parts, including a hip, knee, ankle, cataracts, some vertebrae, his appendix, and in the most extreme instance, drain two liters of blood from a subdural hematoma that was the result of a four-month-old concussion). The latter nearly killed him while he was in the midst of judging a horse show; after months of worrisome decline, he called me minutes post-op and sang out, “I feel 30 years younger!”

The point I’m trying make is that the man is a freak of nature, a machine who, were it not for his fused ankle, would still be skiing with my 81-year-old mother. A world-renown equine vet and behaviorist, he rises at dawn every morning to write or cartoon (he’s the author of over a dozen books on horses and eight rather warped cartoon books, has been contributing to veterinary journals and equine publications for over 50 years, and is probably the only living journalist who can get away with submitting longhand, as he doesn’t know how to type). He rides and swims daily, and still travels all over the world lecturing on natural horsemanship and equine behavior. If he were wont to use such language, he’d say, “Retirement is for pussies.”

Not as popular as the December issue of Veterinary Journal that had a St. Bernard eating a reindeer carcass

My fave cartoon was the December cover of a vet journal, which depicted a St. Bernard on a roof, eating a reindeer carcass. PETA sent hate mail (for reals).

Last night at the hospital, my mom and I received the first truly encouraging news we’ve had since the second surgery. Once a day, Dad’s care team wakes him up and performs neurological and brain function tests. Gaby, our favorite nurse, told us, “Everything looks good; his behavior is normal, except that today, he indicated he wanted to write. We gave him a pen and paper, and he drew an unintelligible doodle.” Her brow wrinkled, indicating that perhaps there was a bit of brain damage, after all.

To the contrary, this was the best possible indicator that all was well in Dad’s mind, beneath the fog of Propifol (what Gaby refers to as “Michael Jackson juice.”). If he’s trying to cartoon, Dad is clearly on the mend. Since they didn’t save the scribble, I asked my mom to stand lookout while I snagged a pair of latex gloves and dug through the trash, trying to find it. We figured family friends would find it as hilarious as we did, but unfortunately, Gaby caught me. “You really don’t want to be dumpster diving in there,” she admonished, giving me a severe look.

I also need to credit Dad with my interest in eating. I mean this literally, because as a kid I only ate what my mom describes as “white foods,” with the exception of Kraft Mac & Cheese. Despite my aversion to anything not in the high-glycemic food index, when I accompanied Dad on calls, lunch was one of my favorite parts of the day.

Daddy's girl with one of our Australian Shepherd pups

Daddy’s girl with one of our Australian Shepherd pups

Unless we had one of his assistants riding shotgun, I was always allowed to pick where I wanted to eat (We loved the stacked, bloody-rare roast beef sandwiches from a certain Calabasas deli, and the ravioli at an adjacent Italian restaurant with sawdust-covered floors). There was a Hunan dive in Woodland Hills that made amazing Mongolian beef, and a Thai place- in the late 70s a virtually unknown cuisine in Southern California- in Encino. Taquerias were the lunch stop of choice. The carne asada burritos from Somis Market were the Holy Grail for hungry large animal vets and their tiny assistants. There, I learned to like cilantro. For dessert, we’d pluck tangerines from the surrounding citrus groves. Sometimes, if it was a night call, we’d stop at Carvel Ice Cream or Farrell’s for a black-and-white sundae (ah, those blissful days, pre-lactose intolerance).

I also inherited my travel jones from my dad, who early in his career finagled ways to combine his passion for the outdoors, skiing, horses, and veterinary medicine with long plane trips. A WW II veteran from a poor family, his two years in post-Occupation Germany ignited his addiction to travel. I remind my parents of this every time they give me shit for moving (again) or taking off on an extended trip to one sketchy destination or another.

A young Doc Miller with one of our colts

A young Doc Miller in his backyard

Family trips are what first got me to expand my limited palate. My dad took a summer sabbatical when I was 10, and we explored Europe in a borrowed camper van while he lectured at various vet schools. I tried venison, chanterelles, non-Oscar Mayer sausages, and beer for the first time. For some reason, what would have made me recoil at home was intriguing overseas, so I’d request tastes of whatever he was eating, unless it involved raw or pickled herring (something I still find repugnant).

Post-Europe, I branched out, culinarily-speaking, although I was still far from what you’d call an adventurous eater. At 11, I tried “calf fries,” aka testicles, while working a cattle drive with my parents. I described the experience thusly in an article on Santa Maria Style barbeque:

When my dad proudly presented me with a testicle taco, how could I refuse?  To say no would be to disappoint the man who had given me life, himself a former wrangler. It was time to grow up, and grow a pair of my own.  I grabbed the dripping tortilla and bit down….chewed…swallowed. It was good!  Smoky, salty, a little bit chewy, just a touch of heat and sweetness from the salsa, the tortilla a perfect foil for the savory juices now dribbling down my chin. Yep.  Tastes just like chicken.

Mom and Dad, 2012

Mom and Dad, 2012

The takeaway from of all this reflection is that my dad and I are more alike than perhaps we’d care to admit. Since my adolescence, we’ve had an often-contentious relationship, mainly because we’re both stubborn as hell, tough as the proverbial rawhide, and will debate endlessly because neither of us are willing to admit defeat. It’s doubtless been a challenge for him, given his generation, to have an opinionated, foul-mouthed, dirtbag daughter entirely lacking in maternal instinct (except where animals are concerned), and for whom marriage is an antiquated notion (meanwhile, he and my mom have been married for 58 years).

Lake Powell, 1972. I do have a mom; she's our photographer.

Lake Powell, 1972. I do have a mom; she’s our photographer.

While he no doubt prefers I’d shut the hell up, find a man, and stop this crazy nomadic behavior, Dad has long been supportive of my gadding about the world, and subsequent attempts to eke out a living writing about it. The Millers aren’t the most verbally communicative folk, and given my dad’s love of the written word (another trait we obviously share), I wanted to use this forum to publicly share my admiration of him, as well as give our friends and family a bit more insight into the man behind the elbow-length OB gloves.

I love you, Daddy. Get well soon.

Postscript, August 29, 2014:

One month to the day after my dad’s cardiac surgeries, he landed on the Big Island of Hawaii, where he conducted his seminars at the Hawaii Horse Expo. As I write, he and my mom are enjoying a much-deserved rest on Maui. Their 58th wedding anniversary is September 16.

Hawaii14

Big Island, August, 2014

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Don’t miss acclaimed chef/restaurateur/author/snappy dresser/”Top Chef” judge Hugh Acheson, who will be giving a talk on “The New Home Economics” at the Basalt Regional Library. I’ll be moderating the event, which is $20 (including wine and guest appearance by Avalanche Cheese Company’s delectable goat cheeses).

Proceeds go toward funding the library’s educational programs, including its landmark Heirloom Seed Bank. If you’re unfamiliar with Hugh and his unibrow, he’s a force to be reckoned with, and one of the most talented, articulate, funny, down-to-earth chefs around. Don’t miss out on this special event.

P.S. Take a peek at Hugh’s new booklet, Pick a Pickle, and get inspired to put up a summer’s worth of produce.  The summer issue of Edible Aspen, featuring my Q & A with Hugh, is on the shelves.

BRLF Hugh Acheson Poster-3-page-0 (2)

 

 

 

 

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Photo love: redbubble.com

I confess I’m self-promoting out an updated article that originally ran on Gadling in 2011, but hey, folks, HuffPo doesn’t pay.

Of greater importance: there’s a slow but steady backlash against food elitism. Pass it on.

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In honor of National Grilling Memorial Day, I’ve decided to rerun this post on how to make the most kickass burgers you’ll ever taste. Really. Happy holiday weekend!

I have Depression-era parents. That’s why I grew up eating freezer-burned heels of bread, and why there are spices in my mother’s pantry older than I am. One useful culinary thing Mom did teach me, besides making braising liquid for pot roast with Lipton’s Onion Soup mix (totally trailer, but so good), is to stretch my pennies by mixing egg and breadcrumbs into ground meat when I make hamburgers. Not only does this make for a lighter, juicier burger, but they taste pretty kick-ass when you liven up the grind with minced shallots, garlic, and chopped fresh herbs.

So, now that summer is finally here (yes, I realize it’s September but I live in Seattle), I thought I’d celebrate by firing up my metaphorical barbecue (I also live in an apartment at the moment), and share with you my tips for making a better burger.

*Remove your ground meat of choice from the fridge half an hour before you plan to make your burgers. You’re going to be adding stuff to it, and it will bind better if the meat isn’t too cold. Allow about one-and-a-half pounds for four people, depending upon what else you plan to serve. It’s always better to prepare too much than too little, and leftover burgers are great crumbled into stir-fries, pasta sauce, or scrambled eggs.

*Open a beer (personally, I prefer cocktails or wine but raw meat flecks and smeary fingerprints on glasseware is just not sexy).

*Dump the meat into a large bowl. Add one egg and one or two largish handfuls of panko or breadcrumbs; make them yourself with leftover bread or score some discounted day-old stuff from a bakery or local dumpster. Storebought stuff works, too. Add another egg if the mixture seems too dry. The point of these two ingredients is two-fold. The egg adds moisture and acts as a binding agent, while the breadcrumbs increase your yield and ensure your burger won’t end up festering in your colon for the next several months.

*Be sure to wash your hands after handling the egg and raw meat, and keep them separate from any utensils or ingredients you plan to use on raw food. E. coli is also not sexy.

*Add to meat one large shallot, minced, and at least three cloves of garlic, also finely minced. I always add a dash or four of soy sauce or Worcestershire, for added flavor. Throw in a handful of chopped Italian parsley or chives. Ground lamb with mint is also wonderful.

*Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix well using your hands until all the ingredients are fully incorporated. To determine if your seasoning is right on, fry up a pinch of the mixture. Form into one-and-a-quarter-inch-thick patties by scooping the meat into your hands and gently! patting them into shape. Resist the urge to fondle too much, as it will compact the meat, making for a dry, tough burger. If you make them slider-sized, you’ll be able to double fist, clutching burger in one hand and beer in the other. I may not like greasy glasses, but I’m a huge advocate of eating and drinking ambidextrously.

I always make a slight indentation in the center of each patty, because that’s what my mom did to prevent “shrinkage.” I have no idea if this is true or not, but it does make you look like a wise old kitchen sage. You can make the burgers up to a day ahead; if you’ve got a crowd, place a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap between layers to prevent them from glomming on to one another. Bring up to room temperature before grilling.

*Preheat your grill or flat-top. Have another drink while you’re waiting.

*When coals are ashy and white and you’ve got some flame going, lightly oil the grill using a damp rag dipped in cooking oil. If you’re using a pan, get it smoking hot and brown both sides of the meat for better flavor. Try to refrain from cooking past medium rare if you’ve thrown down cash for good meat.

*Toast your buns. Artisan or Wonder Bread, they’ll taste better and it will help prevent the condiments from making them soggy.

*One more drink. Eat. Enjoy. Make friends or significant other clean up.

Lamb makes great burgers, too!

Lamb makes great burgers, too!

Sourcing

Depending upon your budget and the state of your arteries, you can opt for lean ground beef (around the eight- to ten-percent fat range), or go big on something 20- to 25-percent fat. Hamburgers are not the place to skimp on fat–it’s a necessary component, whether you use ground chuck, sirloin, or round. I recommend grassfed- and -finished beef for health, humanity, and flavor reasons, but bear in mind it’s lower in fat and shouldn’t be cooked past medium-rare.
Chuck is the most popular and economical, and provides a good fat and flavor balance. When purchasing, look for a bright, pinky-red color, and if cellophane-wrapped, avoid anything gray, leaky, smelly, or otherwise bio-hazardous. Tempting as it may be to purchase the preformed, opaque-packaged, phallic “chubs,” refrain. Saving a few bucks isn’t worth eating gussied up pet food.

If you’re on a tight budget, however, even if you buy the $2.99/lb. ghetto
grind, it will be vastly improved by the addition of a truly great egg. Pasture-raised chickens snack on foraged bugs and decaying vegetation (Those of you with McNugget crumbs around your mouths shouldn’t look so horrified) and the results are exceptionally rich, orangey-yellow yolks packed full of all kinds of that healthy antioxidant crap. They’re a great, inexpensive protein source on their own, and so much better than pale, watery, flavorless commercial eggs that are god knows how old.

Bon appetit!

[Photo love: burger, Flickr user Adam Kuban]

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