Category Archives: Food

Venison stew

After publishing my updated dietary policy yesterday I headed out to Borough market to do some food shopping. I bought some things, and last night crafted a meal out of them for myself and two friends.

The result… feels like it should be a policy violation. It’s not. It scrupulously obeys all the rules – there’s no cheese, the only meat in it is game (I had a conversation with the person selling it to confirm that it was really wild caught venison and not farmed. Apparently he gets a lot of weird and ranty questions from customers so was pleasantly surprised at my “Is your venison farmed? No? Awesome. I’ll have a kilo please”), and the majority of the vegetables are organic and locally sourced.

I think it mostly feels like a policy violation because of misplaced puritanism. The resulting meal was deliciously decadent.

Here’s the recipe. It’s mostly approximate, as I kept tinkering and adding things throughout. There were 3 of us, and we all ate to satiation and there were plenty of leftovers – easily enough for a meal for two, probably enough for a meal for three with a side.

  • 1 kilo diced wild venison
  • 1 medium sized celeriac
  • 6 large carrots
  • 8 new potatoes
  • 6 medium white onions
  • 250g butter
  • 1 bottle red wine (I went up to the nice man in the wine shop and said “Hello. I don’t drink wine but I need a decent dry red for cooking venison. Suggestions?”. He pointed me towards this one)
  • About 10 fresh sage leaves
  • About 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp grains of paradise (I’m not sure this was enough that you could actually taste them)
  • 6 juniper berries
  • A fair bit of salt (I have no idea how much. “to taste”)

I’m not kidding about the wine and the butter. There really is a whole bottle of wine and a whole block of butter in this stew.

Directions:

Roughly quarter and break apart four of the onions. Put them in a roasting pan with half the butter and put it in the oven on 200c. Dice the potatoes, carrots and celeriac into roughly cm cubes (Precision is not important here). Once the onions are starting to soften, add the diced root vegetables to the onions and butter and toss thoroughly.

You’ll need those vegetables roasted reasonably well, so you might want to wait a bit before starting the next bit (don’t wait until they’re roasted before starting, but maybe give them half an hour)

Take the remaining two onions and dice them finely. In a large pot, fry them with the remaining butter and some salt. Once they start to soften, add the paprika, grains of paradise and juniper berries (I cut up the juniper berries first and smashed the grains of paradise in a pestle and mortar).

Once the onions are reasonably well browned, add the venison. Let it brown on the outside, then add about half and half boiling water and red wine until the venison is covered and reduce the heat a bit. Let it cook for another 10 minutes or so, then add all the roasted vegetables and the fresh sage. Top it up with half boiling water and wine again until covered, mix thoroughly and transfer to the oven.

It’s now going to take a while, so start cleaning up. You basically want to leave it cooking until the meat is falling apart – this took about two hours for me. Check on it every 20 minutes or so, if it’s starting to look a bit dry top it up with more wine (I started mostly using wine at this point with the occasional top up of water).

Once it seems ready, turn the oven off and leave it in there for another half hour or so. It’s probably not totally necessary, but the result is just that bit softer and tastier for it.

This entry was posted in Food on by .

Updating my dietary policy

A while ago I wrote about my personal dietary policy.

I’ve been pretty good about adhering to it. I’ve occasionally missed the meat targets when e.g. visiting people, but on my own it’s not been hard to stick to them. I’ve if anything done better on the fish and seafood targets than I’ve expected – I think I’ve had fish maybe once in the 4 months since I started it.

But I think it’s time to update it.

There are a few reasons I think it’s time to update it. The main ones:

  • I think it misses certain key areas
  • I don’t think it’s hardcore enough
  • It bans various things that should be permitted
  • It’s not well designed to create positive feedback loops. It says things I can’t do rather than things I should do

So I’m having a think about how to redesign to improve these.

Here are my general goals:

  • Environmental sustainability is key
  • I am moderately but not strongly interested in animal suffering. I will take steps to reduce it where it does not otherwise conflict with my goals, but I’m not going to bend over backwards for it. I will happily spend money to by lower suffering versions of things I eat though
  • The dietary policy must not feel like a hardship. Obviously I’m going to have to make changes to my life, and I’m fine with that, but if I’m constantly resenting it then I’m going to fail to live up to it
  • In general I am interested in designing systems which cause me to behave better and are self-reinforcing rather than systems which require constant maintenance.
  • I utterly reject any system which requires me to add up things like grams of carbon footprint consumed because I simply will not follow it. I’m OK with using these as guidelines for creating general rules though.

So with these in mind, here is what I’m thinking of. This is not a firm commitment to follow these rules, and some of them may be stupid ideas.

Firstly, I’m reducing the number of violations I can have. I am allowed two “cheat days” a month. The months strictly follow the calendar and I am not allowed two cheat days in the same week (for reasons of convenience, a week here starts on Saturday and continues to Friday. This follows the pattern for my eating habits much better than starting it on Monday)

All rules may be compromised on when my adhering to them would be a massive pain in the ass for someone who has not bought into them. I understand I may have to compromise on this some times when visiting people. I will express my preferences in these cases but if it’s inconvenient/undesirable for people to match them I won’t raise a fuss about it.

In all other cases the rules will be strictly adhered to.

The following are banned foods except on cheat days:

  • All meat except that is not explicitly white listed (see below)
  • All cheese (possible exception to follow)
  • All fish and seafood

Some meat is always permitted. In particular, chicken is just an allowed part of the diet, no restrictions. Other small birds and animals may be allowed too. Game, in particular venison, is always allowed (though I probably won’t eat that much of it because it’s expensive!). The reasoning here is that small animals are actually pretty efficient in terms of carbon/gram of protein. They grow fast and are low overhead. Arguably if your ethics are environment centric, chicken is better than tofu (I don’t actually have numbers for this. This may be false, or highly dependent on the sources of each).

Cheese is… regrettable. Again going on the metric of carbon/gram of protein, cheese seems to be as bad as many of the worst meats. The problem is not dairy products in general but cheese specifically, as there seems to be about a 10:1 ratio of milk to cheese produced. It’s unclear to me how much the byproducts like whey offset this.

I will probably allow myself cheese as a garnish about once a week, because sadness, but meals for which removing the cheese would make them not-meals are definitely a rules violation.

So that’s what I’m not allowed to eat. I also need to commit to some positive behaviour changes.

  • I will bring lunch to work at least twice a week on weeks where I’m working the full 5 day week. Why? Because I have much more control over the sustainability of what I make than I do over what I buy pre-made. This is a good way to reclaim some control over that, as work lunches are overwhelmingly my main source of food not made by me
  • I will eat a meal based on dried beans or lentils at least once per week. These seem to be a very good sustainable source of protein, much better than many other vegetarian options
  • Every time I throw away food, I will record (probably in a Google doc) what I threw away and why. I’m not as bad as many on the food wastage thing, but in terms of footprint I imagine the amount of food I throw away easily matches an extra burger a month or so. This should encourage me to reduce it.
  • Something about buying local, seasonal, veg on a more regular basis. I don’t yet know how this is going to work. Maybe an Abel and Cole box once a month or something.

That’s all I’ve got so far. I’m probably going to try following these rules for a bit (I’ll allow myself one more cheat day this month, despite the fact that the number of days I’ve violated these rules this month is definitely more than two, then start properly on the rigid cheat day allocation next month). Any suggestions extremely welcome.

This entry was posted in Food on by .

How to hard “boil” an egg, redux

About a year ago I wrote a post on how to hard boil an egg. It involves not actually boiling them, plus some other more complicated details.

I’ve discovered a new, refined method. It’s both simpler and more effective. It involves slightly fewer steps than the previous seven step process:

  1. Stick them in a steamer

I was steaming some things anyway and wanted to make some eggs, so it occurred to me to wonder whether steaming would work. Some googling lead me to this post which I promptly proceeded to not really pay much attention to now that I knew the concept worked. I literally just put the eggs in the steamer basket, waited about 10-15 minutes, took them out again and they were perfect.

This entry was posted in Food on by .

On vegetarians who eat chicken

Chicken

This is a chicken. What does it look like to you? Does it look like a vegetable? No. It looks like an animal. So how can you be a vegetarian who eats chicken? You’re lying to me when you say you’re a vegetarian, aren’t you?

Thus spake just about everyone ever presented with someone with a dietary preference more complicated than “I eat all the things” or “I’m vegetarian”. I’m sure I’ve said similar things in the past.

This post is not more of that. It’s a post about how calling yourself “vegetarian but I eat chicken” is entirely OK.

I am not vegetarian. If you ask me if I’m vegetarian I will say “kindof”. I might elaborate, but I probably won’t unless it clearly makes sense in context to do so. But if you say “Who here is vegetarian?” I will likely put my hand up.

Am I lying to you? Well, yes, technically I suppose. My dietary preferences are much more nuanced than “vegetarian”. But I’ll eat vegetarian food, and I probably won’t eat the non-vegetarian food, or will have a preference about it which goes sufficiently against the meat-eating members of the group’s preference that I will either a) End up eating the vegetarian option anyway or b) Annoy them by making them eat something they’d prefer not to eat. Does anyone really think that life would be improved by my going “Well, actually, I’m not vegetarian but I do have some very precise constraints about what sort of meat I think it is appropriate to eat. Here, let me tell you all about them”. I didn’t think so.

All communication is this sort of trade off. Many of the things we say are inaccurate, or at the very least imprecise.

In many cases you are simply much better off answering the question “Are you vegetarian?” with “Yes” than you are “No, but life will be much easier for all concerned if you just treat me like one”. Many people will still use the latter, and that’s fine, but many people will choose the former, and that’s fine too. It is no more “lying” than a thousand other social constructs we use every day.

Another reason why people will sometimes do this is that people can be real assholes about food. This isn’t something I’ve personally experienced much when I’ve been vegetarian (hypothesis: Because I’m male), but it’s something a lot of vegetarians encounter.

It is vastly more irritating when you do not neatly pigeon hole. People are mostly used to vegetarians now. Support for vegetarianism is pretty widespread – it might get you some funny looks, it might start a discussion, but it’s pretty normal and boring at this stage so it’s unlikely to create a big deal.

Try telling someone you can’t eat something specific. For me it was dairy – I spent a period of time with a dairy intolerance (yes, this is a thing that can go away). A literal quote from someone on hearing this: “I would sooner the sweet embrace of death than go without cheese”. Sure, it was funny, and it’s among the higher quality responses I received, but imagine how tiresome this gets when you get this sort of response every single fucking time you have to explain your dietary requirements to people.

Why is this? I think it’s because you’re in an unfamiliar category. You’re strange and different, and people don’t know how to react to you. Moreover, food is something that people seem to feel very strongly about because it’s such a big part of their life, so by refusing to eat things they love it feels like you are judging them for the fact that they do. So you’re a weird and unfamiliar thing which is attacking their way of life. What do they do? They attack back of course!

Sure, it’s entirely possible that they are a lovely person who would never attack you like this, but if you don’t know them very well then you have little way of knowing that, and if you do know them very well then they probably already know about your dietary preferences so what’s the issue?

So here are your options: You can apply a label which people are familiar with and might be a bit dickish about, but are probably basically going to be fine with, or you can give the more accurate truth which has a non-zero chance of getting you put on the spot and asked to defend your life choices. You encounter this every time you engage in a common social activity. Which one are you more likely to choose?

So this is where the motivation to tell people you are vegetarian when you’re not comes from.

Know where the motivation to tell people you are vegetarian but you eat chicken comes from? Well, it might come from the fact that you just really like chicken. I’m sure for many people it does. But another place it comes from? Consideration. You are giving people options to make their lives easier. It sure is nice when they use that as a reason to judge you, isn’t it?

Finally, from a language point of view, the construct “I am vegetarian but I eat chicken” is totally OK. People use it, you understand what it means, what’s the problem? It’s functionally equivalent to “I keep a mostly vegetarian diet but I eat chicken” or “I’m like a vegetarian but I eat chicken”, so it gets shortened. You wouldn’t object to the sentence “I am a vegetarian, with some exceptions”.

There are two ways to parse the sentence: One is “(I am a vegetarian) and (I eat chicken)”, which is a logical contradiction and so probably not what was meant. Another is “I am a (vegetarian with the exception that I eat chicken)”. One of these is the obviously intended parse of the sentence. The other is the parse you are insisting on out of a misguided sense of linguistic prescriptivism which you are using to police someone else’s life choices. Please stop it.

Edit: An update in response to some feedback from friends who are strict vegetarians.

An important thing to note here is that this is not the same thing as people who say “I’m vegetarian” whilst chowing down on a steak. Descriptive linguistics is a powerful tool, and with great power comes great responsibility. One of these responsibilities is this: Don’t ruin words for people who need them. One of the ways you can ruin the word “vegetarian” is by making people think that all vegetarians eat chicken.

Social lies are OK, but when you tell them you have a responsibility to exhibit behaviour consistent with what you are describing it as. If you describe yourself as “I’m vegetarian but I eat chicken”, this is fine. If anything it reinforces the idea that eating chicken is an exceptional behaviour for people who describe themselves as vegetarian. If you simply say “I’m vegetarian” whilst eating chicken, you are reinforcing the idea that vegetarians eat chicken and you are making other peoples’ lives worse. If you say “I’m vegetarian” and go on to eat vegetarian food, that’s fine. You’ve not hurt peoples’ perception of the world, and you probably have a perfectly good reason for having preferred to eat vegetarian right now even if the reality is more complicated.

There is a large gray area in the middle here as to what’s acceptable behaviour, and I’m not going to try to take a stand on where the dividing line is. All I’m saying is that there is a wide range of acceptable behaviour, and that the way people react to some of it is very unhelpful.

This entry was posted in Food, life on by .

I’ve been stealing recipes from my mother: Ice cream pie

This recipe is a bit of a childhood favourite of mine, and when I was home for the weekend my mother made it for the first time in probably about ten years. It’s apparently very labour intensive to make, which is why she doesn’t make it that often.

It’s an incredibly 70s thing, but it’s a deliciously 70s thing rather than Ham, Banana and Hollandaise.

What is ice cream pie? It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s pie… filled with ice cream. The topping is meringue rather than a pastry crust, which means it can cook quickly enough for the ice cream not to melt.

Here’s the recipe in its original form:

piecomposite

Transcription

DELUXE ICE CREAM PIE

Make a crumbcrust in a 9-10″ pie plate. BAKE and COOL.

FUDGE SAUCE: Beat 3 egg yolks until thick and lemon colored. Beat in \(\frac{1}{2}\) cup powdered sugar and 2 oz. melted unsweetened chocolate. (if swwet choc, reduce powdered sugar to \(\frac{1}{4}\) cup or less. Beat 3 egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold into chocolate mixture. Spread half of this mixture over bottom of pie crust. Then layer with favorite ice cream, using two flavors. Put one layer of choc. sauce in middle also. Top with wipped cream or meringue (see back recipe).

Freeze pie for at least 6 hours before serving. Can be made up one week in advance and topping added later.

MERINUE TOPPING: (for one pie)

  • 3 egg whites
  • \(\frac{1}{4}\) tsp. cream of tartar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • \(\frac{1}{2}\) tsp. vanilla

Beat egg whites until frothy with vanilla and cream of tartar. Gradually add sugar until satiny. Pile on top of frozen pie, bake in preheated \(400^o\) oven to brown,approx 8 mins. Serve immediately – at this point the ice cream will have softened just enough for easy cutting and serving.

Notes

Primary note: Om nom nom.

Secondary note: I don’t actually know how to make a crumb crust (I don’t do much baking). This looks like a good recipe for it though. I believe my mother uses digestive biscuits rather than graham crackers, but that might just be because we’re in the UK so they’re easier to obtain.

This entry was posted in Food on by .