Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Complexities of Being an Omnivore

I’m in the process of writing an article for Edible Green Mountains about Icelandic lamb. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this primitive breed (I had never eaten it before now), it’s a premium lamb that’s highly sought after for its incomparable flavor and lean quality. In the interest of research, I of course had to taste some. The lamb is raised at Stark Hollow Farm, a small sustainable farm in Huntington run by Vanessa Riva and Laura Smith. They ship their lamb all over the country, with some customers paying more for the shipping than for the lamb itself.

I had visited Stark Hollow Farm already and seen their happy sheep grazing on a hillside (they’re 100 percent grass-fed), but I hadn’t bought any lamb that day. 

So this past weekend, I stopped by Burlington Farmers Market with my friend Nadine and picked up some nice, thick loin chops. I also bought some shallots from Jericho Settlers Farm and some of their gorgeous carrots the color of blood oranges. 

It was the makings of a Sunday feast. Sunday is one of my favorite days to cook, since we’re all usually home in the late afternoon with no plans to go out. I put on one of my favorite albums, Sigh No More, poured myself a glass of wine, and got to work. Warning: those of you who don’t eat meat may not want to read any further.

Everyone makes their own choices about what they eat or don’t eat. Within my household, one of us chooses not to eat red meat (Isabel had chicken for dinner instead), and Chris doesn’t eat veal. I choose to eat locally raised grass-fed or free-range meat that’s been treated humanely. I also consume all kinds of dairy, and fish and seafood (but avoid farmed). While I support the “snout to tail” mentality, I don’t have the stomach for it. Once, though, I did try sheep testicles. Mostly, I eat a plant-based diet—because it’s healthy and I also happen to love vegetables and grains.

Carrots don’t usually get me too excited, but the red beauties I picked up at the market were still snappy well into March and full of flavor. They roasted up to a perfect density and even kept most of their vibrant color.

I also sautéed up some green beans, alas not local at this time of year, but I tossed in some local minced garlic. 

Even though they weren’t haricot verts, my preferred kind, they were still pretty tasty, especially finished with a sprinkling of Fleur de Sel.

Finally, I cooked up some rice to soak up those delicious lamb juices and turn the dinner into a proper square meal, which does have a certain way of satisfying the appetite. Usually I’m not one to follow fads, but back in January I tried going wheat-free. I’ve been having issues with inflammation and achy joints, and the argument for going wheat-free was pretty compelling based both on conversations with friends and articles on the subject. A little over two weeks was all I could take. 

The substitutes were either unpalatable or made of starches that were hyperglycemic nightmares. I was also craving carbs like never before, driving me to eat half a bowl of popcorn ravenously, something I hadn’t done since I was pregnant. Despite all that, I was a grouch. So I went back to wheat, happily, and eat about the same amount as I did before—in moderation. If I follow any kind of regimen with my eating patterns, it’s simply that. I find that when I restrict myself in some way, I begin to obsess about food and compensate by eating things that are less healthy that the restricted food itself. Besides, life’s too short. Food is meant to be enjoyed, so I can put up with some achiness.

Which brings me back to the lamb. Oooh, baby, it was gooood. 

You can taste the farm in this lamb. It makes you want to pick it up and eat it off the bone with your hands, which we did. After a few bites, Faye said, “This is the kind of meat where you can really tell you’re eating an animal.” I couldn’t have said it better myself—and this comment from a girl who has volunteered for years at the Humane Society and more than once has donated some of her own money to the World Wildlife Fund. The human omnivore is a complex creature, and it gives me great satisfaction that she could appreciate the authenticity of the lamb. So much of what is produced in the US and passed off as food has been genetically engineered or heavily processed with additives and flavorings that it hardly resembles food at all, both in taste and chemical structure.

By eating this primitive breed, we were participating in the conservation of a species that might otherwise go extinct. In fact, Icelandic sheep have just recently been removed from the watch list, thanks to farms like Stark Hollow. All the more reason to enjoy. Pass the meat, please.

Pan-Roasted Lamb Chops with Rosemary

Serves 4

8 lamb chops, about 1½ inches thick
1 t ground rosemary
Sea salt and ground pepper to taste
3 T olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400˚F roast. Rub the lamb chops with the rosemary and season them with salt and pepper. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large enameled cast iron pan. Cook the lamb chops until they begin to brown, about 3 minutes on each side.

Transfer the pan to the oven and roast the chops about 10 minutes total, turning them once. This timing should result in meat that’s medium rare. Adjust the timing based on your preference for doneness.

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