the view from my table

So, food blogging. It’s something I have definitely fallen down on, what with being busy with learning about literature and generally falling out of regular blogging in the post-a-day way I used to do. But, I’m still a total foodie, and have been meaning to get back into geeking out about food.

Add to that, I was recently chatting with a friend about our less-meatarian diet, and she was asking me questions about what our meals actually look like. It’s definitely hard, when first transitioning to a less-meat diet, to figure out what to put on a plate that isn’t a meat and two sides. Mark Bittman addresses this in his book (an AMAZING resource) How to Cook Everything Vegetarian:

Even those people who do cook at home reckon that the easiest way to anchor a meal is to throw a steak or a chicken breast on the grill or under the broiler and scatter a few nominal vegetables around it…But a vegetarian meal is more commonly a table with a few dishes on it, all of them of equal importance…The grain is not less valuable than the cooked vegetable, the salad, or the bread: they’re all there to compliment one another. Pickles you made yourself, a nice piece of cheese, or a bowl of nuts–all are valid courses in the vegetarian meal.

Now, Bittman is certainly not a vegan (note the cheese reference), and neither am I. I choose to eat much less meat than the average American for environmental, humanitarian, and health reasons. I try to follow the dictates of Michael Pollan’s famous maxim: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. I try to eat food, by which he means whole ingredients, rather than food products or processed foods. And I try to eat more plant-based foods. But I still eat fish, eggs, and cheese, and the occasional ethically-raised meat when I can afford it.

Anyway, I figured that a weekly roundup of what we actually eat might help friends looking to transition to a less-meat diet get some ideas about what less-meat meals actually look like. These posts will be characterized by most-likely iPhone photography of our meals, which, I confess, more often than not are eaten on TV trays in our living room while we watch something from our DVR. I’ll share links to recipes when I can, or share which cookbooks the recipes came from. My two most frequently used cookbooks are both by Bittman– the aforementioned How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and The Food Matters Cookbook.

So, what did our meals this week look like?

This meal was definitely the most veggie-licious of our week. I tossed a bunch of sliced veggies (red bell pepper, zucchini, squash, onion, grape tomatoes) with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and some Herbes de Provence. I broiled them for about 15 minutes while I made some pearl couscous and cooked a couple of pieces of fish in a skillet. Such a tasty and colorful meal. The fish was really not even necessary. Might have poached an egg and served it on top or just tossed in some chickpeas for a fish-free version.

This is a common meal for us. Cuban-style black beans (I skip the radishes) over coconut rice (the idea for the rice came from this recipe). Almost always eaten with a Cuba Libre (rum and Coke with a lime).

Do those veggies look familiar? They’re leftover from meal #1. I cut them into bite sized pieces, sauteed them til warm, and then added some eggs and gruyere cheese to the mix, for a sort of veggie scramble. I do some variation of this a lot when I have leftover veggies that need to be used up.

Our other meals this week: cheese dip and margaritas and guacamole at a fave Mexican restaurant. Cheese dip and salsa another night too. Chicken and veggie pizza from another fave place. And Mexican night at our church. Might be avoiding anything with a Mexican flavor for this next week!

we might starve without a CSA

Image: Clagett Farm CSA Week 9, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from galant's photostream

We’ve been in Little Rock and without our beloved CSA for three weeks now, and I’ve realized that after a year as a CSA member, I completely forgot how to feed us in a conventional way.

You see, I became so used to receiving a giant box of veggies each week and planning my meals accordingly, that I actually forgot how to plan a week’s worth of meals and shop for us without it.  This became apparent today when we realized we were both starving and had nothing in the house for lunch.  Before, back in our CSA days, when our fridge was always overflowing with veggies, every meal I cooked involved enough leftovers for at least two lunches.  On top of that, just to use up all the veggies before they went bad, I was always making and freezing ratatouilles, soups, and pasta sauces that could be pulled out and defrosted to make a last-minute meal.

Today, stomach growling, I peeked in the fridge and realized that while I had ingredients to make two more dinners (I shop the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and fill in with the grocery store on Sundays), the only other things I had to eat were bacon, eggs, tortillas, cheese, pita chips, and hummus.  I had completely forgotten to plan for lunch, because I got so used to having leftovers or something from the freezer!  “What are we going to EAT?” I wailed to Jon, flopping down on the guest bed near where he was using his computer.  (I tend to get swoony and dramatic when hungry.)  “We could get some lunchmeat and sandwich stuff,” he suggested.  “But that’s against the rules!”

What are the rules? Well, after seeing “Food, Inc.” we agreed upon the following:

  • We only eat meat that is sustainably and ethically raised.  This basically means “pastured” meat, or meat that comes from an animal raised in a pasture (more than “free-range”, which is basically meaningless) where it can stretch its legs, graze on grass, and, in the case of chickens, munch on bugs and worms.  This meat would preferably be local, but does not have to be.
  • In order to afford that meat, we eat vegetarian (or nearly vegetarian) for much of the week.
  • What veggies we do consume are to be local (when possible), first and foremost, and preferably organic.
  • All of our dairy is to be organic.  Eggs are to be from pastured nesting hens.
  • We avoid corn syrup, processed foods, and excessive packaging.
  • Our coffee is to be fair trade and shade grown.
  • Most of these rules go out the window outside our home.

After some discussion, we decided that 1) we might have to relax our rules while we figure out a food routine here in our new city, and 2) it was time to get ourselves to Sam’s Club.  In Charleston, we were members of Costco, but it’s basically the same thing as Sam’s.  The #1 major reason to be a member is to get big frozen bags of seafood.  Currently, we don’t have rules about seafood, though we are moving in that direction as we learn more about the environmental impact of commercial fishing and fish farming operations.  I have a general idea that wild-caught salmon is “better” than farmed salmon, but I couldn’t tell you why.  Still, fish is a staple in our diet, because it’s easier to get than pastured meat most of the time, and because I’m still not a good enough vegetarian cook not to base most of my meals around a protein source.  Other things we commonly buy at Sam’s/Costco: canned tomatoes, chicken stock, chocolate chips, pasta, pita chips, Zyrtec, Prilosec, Lactaid, parmesan cheese, feta cheese, and dog food.

So, now we’re members of Sam’s (which, I have to say, membership for a year was $40 and they gave us a $20 gift card, so, with the savings on what we bought today alone, our membership is more than paid for), and our pantry is nicely stocked.  I’m realizing I need to buy more than I think I need at the farmer’s market on Saturdays so I can make a few extra dishes and freeze them to have in a pinch later.  We’re still figuring out how to eat our values in a new city, and I’m sure we have a ways to go.  I’m also trying to figure out how the food aspect of this blog will look without the weekly rhythm of our CSA boxes, though I know I want to keep sharing stories and recipes of our adventures in more ethical eating.  If you have suggestions, let me know! Here’s hoping we won’t starve because I don’t know how to eat like a regular person anymore.