The Silence of the Lambs: On Becoming Vegetarian

Two weeks ago, I made steak for supper upon returning from the gym. This isn’t particularly noteworthy in and of itself, being a meatatarian, especially after an intense boxing workout. But on this night, we lucked out and found a couple of great cuts on sale. Seasoned with salt and pepper, and cooked to medium-rare, the steaks paired wonderfully with a salad made of mixed field greens, caramelized onion, red pepper and feta, drizzled with a flavoured oil.

As we ate on this night, one of the kids sat and chatted with us.  How it came about, I don’t know. But she asked to actually try a piece.

This was something. She wasn’t a big fan of meat, but still entertained it occasionally. Chicken. Roast beef dinners. But this was just plain steak – no mashed potatoes, no gravy, no Yorkshire puddings – and she was gobbling it up, remarking how delicious it was. How it melted in her mouth.

I felt like I had won.

You smarter, more experienced parents know that I most certainly did not.

The Powerpoint presentation.

After a class on the environment and sustainability and just where our food comes from – and likely spiced up with further hallway conversation – a case was made to never eat a piece of meat again in slide format, accompanied with fuzzy animals and peppered with the traditional rhetoric of slaughter of the innocents and some Catholic guilt thrown in for good measure.

I will openly admit that I don’t understand the choice to switch to a plant-only existence, from a nutrition perspective. As in the scenario above, I just thought it was because one didn’t have well prepared meat or fish – there were certainly a few times that I toyed with swearing off animals after some tough, dried pieces of meat. But it’s bigger than that, in this case – the search for identity, I suppose. So, at the very least we can try to entertain and encourage a responsible exploration.

Enter my dad (the king of the BBQ) and his techniques for vegetarian lasagna, which he’s made a few times for veggie family members and even I have given it a seal of approval. untitled-271

  • Slice up zucchini and eggplant. The zucchini are placed in a frying pan and sprinkled with parmesan on both sides. The eggplant is broiled – again, both sides – on low heat in the oven until dried out. The key with both vegetables is to get a lot of the moisture out, or you’ll end up with a soggy mess.
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  • Boil a box of noodles, grate mozzarella, and make a white sauce (this recipe is what I used – plus a pinch or two of garlic salt).
  • Assemble: spray a 9 x 13 pan, then lay down noodles. Then a vegetable, the mozza (which will keep it again from getting soggy), and half the sauce. Cover with noodles and repeat. Top with more cheese.

Is it healthy? Well, it’s not processed, and there’s two vegetables in there – but it’s symbolic, an Alfredo-sauce-soaked olive branch of sorts to a frustrated kid who realized, after a few days of trying it out, that it ain’t easy being green in a world of chicken nuggets and cardboard school cafeteria pizza.

I made it Sunday, ready to heat up for a hectic Monday school night supper. Not an ounce mushy either!

“So, what did you think?”

“Not bad. Except for the vegetables. Next time, can we have chicken pot pie instead? Minus the chicken.”

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Beef Wellington

Beef Wellington. A “Hell’s Kitchen” staple, along with that fish named John and risotto. I love me some cow, but knowing that the other main ingredient is mushrooms – and a lot of them – I’ve shied away for some time. After seeing a recipe for miniature Wellingtons, though, I realized that I could make some without the fungus – substituting onions only.

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And we had some brie, so why not add that into the little pastry packets?

The pastry was a great find. After forgetting to buy frozen dough at the store, and loathing the idea of heading back out, I found a “quick” puff pastry recipe that uses the food processor to speed up the process in about half the time.

 

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The toasty underside of the mini Wellington packet.

Twenty-five minutes in the oven and some garlicky greens as a side, supper was served – with a bit of our new beer, too!

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Inside a Wellington with just onions and the brie

 

 

Pita Bread

It’s hard to come by a good pita wrap in the foggy city. In another effort to bridge cravings for wonderful international cuisine, I decided to try and make a respectable substitute at home.

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Traditional Greek Pita Bread

It sounds like it would be a pain in the a…but they’re really easy to make. A few minutes to bring together in the standing mixer, about an hour or so for rising, and then a quick cook in a hot iron skillet. While they didn’t give the traditional “pocket” (but I think that was due to rolling them too thin), they tasted great – soft and chewy.

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We used ours for falafel wraps, using the box mix for falafels, along with some tiny tomatoes, arugula and feta. I tried to make a garlic emulsion (toum), but that ended up an exercise in washing lots of dishes and having no results. It’s seen drizzled in the photo, but should have a mayo consistency. A challenge for another day – one where it isn’t post-party!

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Craft Work: First Batch II

After a couple of days of bubbling and gurgling, it was time this morning to transfer the brew into the secondary fermenter. It’s looking a bit sexier now, compared to the foamy concoction we had a day ago.

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Transferring from the primary to the secondary fermenter

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Keeping things in check as it transfers…

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All ready to be sealed up with the air lock!

Still looks and smells like it’s on the right track! In another 7 – 10 days, we should be ready to bottle!

Craft Work: First Batch

Instead of setting resolutions per se, Ben and I decided that we would pick some new adventures: things to learn or try. With some of the gear from previous wine-making years ago (including custom shirts to “Ben’s Wine Club”, a noble establishment indeed), we decided that one of our adventures would be to try our hand at making craft beer.

My inner chemistry nerd was fully on board for this. Chemical reactions? Specific gravity? Ermahgerd.

So, after a quick discussion with the fellow at Barley Malt and Vine on City Rd., we settled on a kit with as much hops as they had in the store.
/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/40a/63358722/files/2015/01/img_0219.jpgOn the first day of 2015, we got the kettle fired up to make some brew!

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Of course, we had our assistant brewmaster close by…

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Chemistry Nerd was this close to getting a blue notebook to write up this lab, but resisted. After reading the instructions 100 times, the materials are organized in order of addition: grains, malt extract, three types of hops and the rest of the malt extract (which, if you divvy it up and add half at the end of the cooking stage, makes for a lighter colour beer).

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To start – adding the cold water to heat up and steep the grains.

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Cheesecloth with grains, making a lovely tea

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The process is closely guarded by the assistant brewmaster…

We decided to try out a new brew each time when we make beer, and brought this Spruce Beer back from Garrison Brewery in Halifax. Fun to try but I think we’ll pass on getting more bottles.

Pretty much what you think a boozy tree would taste like.

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Back to brewing: adding the malt extract to the grain “tea”

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Stirring in one of the three batches of hops

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Waiting for a brew is boring…

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Hops: so called because they look like rabbit pellets?

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Getting ready to put in the first fermenting bucket with lots more water

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Just before we added yeast and closed up the vessel.

Today, we opened the lid to see if we had the promised activity in the fermenter – we could guess that it worked by the bread/beer smell this afternoon. Sure enough, success!

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Next step tomorrow or Sunday will be to transfer the mixture to a glass fermenter for a serious batch of brewing…