Meat noobs & fat-lust

Noob as in newbie, as in a person new to something. I love the word. Or as Outlaw affectionately calls them, dumbass noobs. No offense is meant by me though; we are all noobs at something or we should hope to be trying new stuff such that we are noobs often. I’m not a weightlifting noob but I am rather de-conditioned and an Outlaw noob and I’m thinking like a noob right now: “Am I going to be able to handle this volume?”

CrossFit noob Remy ca. 2009. So glad Waxman helped me learn how to properly clean.

I love ‘real-food’ noobs. I love explaining to someone for the first time why I think saturated fat is vital to long-term health. When I talk about the gym or me buying a whole pig, in LA the expressions are priceless. But here in the Midwest they have déjà vu face and then usually recount good memories of their great-uncle who had a farmstead, a chest freezer full of venison, a root cellar. The agricultural roots aren’t as long forgotten and the wisdom hasn’t been transformed by modern values to lifestyle folklore.

The meat guys at Whole Foods at first give the “You? Seriously?” look when I ask for their extra grass-fed fat off the beef and lamb. When I explain what I make with it their nodding and grinning says “I take back my stereotyping reaction and give you props”. The unhealthy vegetarian agenda that WF pushes probably doesn’t help, but I’d wager everyone’s surprise that a healthy-looking yet animal-fat-lusty female has more to do with the already existing mistake of media and healthcare industries’ habit of incorrectly conflating obesity, body fat, and the presence of animal fat in the diet.

Lavish liquid love (chicken broth from Wallace Farms chicken backs)

What I love best is the connection felt in the primal understanding when sharing food lust. Sure, I’m envisioning a half-gallon jar filled with golden chicken broth with a three-inch head of fat and they’re envisioning a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a deep dish, but the feeling is similar. I know because I used to lust for Chubby Hubby and Home Run Inn pizzas before I changed my health and subsequently my pallet. Understanding its biochemical properties and its specific value as a nutrient-dense food, I treat pastured animal fat like the guys in Bering Sea Gold treat gold. When I jar a batch of freshly rendered lard I feel like a lab chemist carbon-dating a delicate ancient artifact or an apothecary handling a love potion.

In Sanskrit, the word for fat, sneha, also means ‘lavish love’. I learned this in one of my favorite books, Full Moon Feast. In there are some fascinating histories of fat in ancient traditions and cultures. Her ability to address both the beautiful traditions and the bitter topic of a complicated recent history of misinformation, miseducation, and subsequent difficult choices AND keep the reader feeling hopeful is artful and instructive. I encounter people daily convinced that they can’t lust for food and be strong, lean and healthy and I wish for this book to drop into their hands.

Lamb ribs rubbed with a BBQ spice mixture and Dougie's (paleo) sauce from WF

Ramble over. I’ve found meat recipes don’t change much for a given cut, across cultures. Even though the internet is brimming with resources, meat-noobs feel understandably confused when handed a cut of meat that doesn’t look like one of the few they’ve had the option of purchasing at Trader Joe’s or the big box grocer. And when it comes to making and using broth and rendering and using fat, that’s even more a foreign concept. Here are some notes I put together for some noobs on a couple standard and delicious ways to use anything with at least some visible large streaks of fat (ideally) with bone-in. It’s easy to be deceived into thinking a recipe must be followed for the food to taste really good. Understanding the principles is a better starting place I think. 

Wet Roast: You’ll get the texture of ribs

  • Marinate* (optional) for 3-12hrs either submerged in water or in a bag or just coated and left on a platter in the fridge
  • Dry off, rub liberally with a spice rub*, seal tightly in foil (place in a baking pan/dish) or earthenware or a dutch oven w/lid
  • Bake for 4 hrs @ 225F or 5 hrs @200F
  • During the last 45m take out and glaze (optional) with something sweet* or a sauce of your choice, add diced carrots/potatoes/cabbage/whatever, reseal in the foil (using more foil if necessary to keep it sealed)
  • In the last 10m (optional) — remove foil and turn to broil.
  • Keep an eye not to burn (or you could transfer to grill if you want)
  • Save bones to make a broth to use in soup or drink*

Stew: you’ll get a tender meat in a delicious broth

  • Optional: sear/brown each side in a pan of fat
  • Optional: use that pan to saute leeks/onion/veg to add to the pot later
  • Submerge in broth or water in a crock pot
  • Add some acidic liquid (~1 oz. per lb of meat/bones), ~1t salt per lb of meat/bones, spices (~1T total mixture per lb of meat/bones)
  • Cook on low for 8-12hrs
  • Add root veg at the half-way point (optional)
  • Add your saute or greens an 1-2hr before serving (optional)
  • Save bones to make a broth to use in soup or drink*

*Rubs, marinades, and using the bones

Favorite rubs: (for all 2T ea Salt, Pepper)

  • Savory: 2T ea: Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano ground
  • BBQ: 2T ea: smoked paprika, cumin, thyme, garlic; 2T tomato paste
  • Greek: 2T ea: tarragon, garlic, chives

Marinades: something acidic + something flavorful

  • Acidic: coconut/balsamic/apple cider vinegar, citrus, coffee, tomato sauce
  • Flavor: gf fermented tamari, coconut aminos, broth, garlic, tomato sauce

Rubs: salt+pepper+spices Sweet glazes: honey, molasses, paleo bbq sauce Using the bones:

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Club nose-to-tail & bacon Eureeka

Paulie's pork belly, cured, baked, boiled

A whole lot of my time in the kitchen has been happy, successful and delicious thanks to Paulie’s Pasture. Paul is a relatively new farmer who started out with just birds and now raises pastured pigs, lamb, turkey, ducks, and chickens about an hour west of us from O’Hare. I’ve gotten the crew at Dog House CF involved, too, buying from this wonderful steward of soil and cool creatures. If we can get our act together and get a freezer there that would mean a steady stream of premium CrossFitter fuel for clean-and-jerking, bone-building and back-flipping excellence.

We started out with a sampling Paul’s food via the Chicago Meatshare and were so please that we worked directly with him to get a whole pig (head, organs, everything) delivered to the restaurant. We’ve worked our way through it making head cheese, sausage, rendering fat, smoking hams, curing the belly, making incredible broth from the bones, and roasting and stewing the muscle meats.

Round 2 of bacon testing: still too salty, but not salty enough not to eat :)

I had the idea to do this as a side gig but after getting through one pig I’m not sure that I’d want to do this even as a hobby. However, I do like the idea of starting a club(s) for maybe 2-6 people who’d take turns processing whole or halves (using nourishing standards/recipes) and distributing the duties to each and then sharing in each food/product. Not for profit just to share the large effort of processing a whole animal.  This would require willing and capable people though. Putting it out there!

What follows are various things that we did to our pork belly and how it turned out as various types of bacon:

  • 7 days curing (using this cure recipe and fun read) in lots of sugar and salt: too salty when sliced/baked and eaten
  • 7 days curing in lots of salt: ditto
  • 7 days curing then baked for 3hrs at 195: less salty, still too salty
  • 7 days curing, baked, then submersed/simmered in water for 30m, sliced, baked, eating — DING DING DING DING

The last step was suggested by Hania, my Polish mom whose Chef at the restaurant suggested it to her. Genius. The flavor is way more porky and doesn’t have the salty/cured zing that normal bacon has which is my only bacon qualm.

Porky manifestations




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Laying down roots in Chicago

Visiting Iron Street Farm -- Will Allen's latest Urban Farm

All of the sudden my photo feed has less pictures of chickens and Darek prancing around in his underwear in the garden and of my beach-front ‘office’ views of the Sea of Cortez.

The story of how we decided to leave Baja for Chicago is a long and complicated one. Actually, the decision was simple, made abruptly due to both health and family issues, but such things are never simple. The Baja Paleo Farm project is by no means a bygone, though. We are still planning, recruiting, spreading the word, but full-time living down there is on pause.

There are SO MANY stories and adventures from our time in Baja that I’d love to document and plan to in the coming months. When we were down there we had no internet connection for all intents and purposes so I have about twenty Word docs of drafts of posts that I just need to complete, edit and post! For a photo preview of those amazing four months in paleo farming paradise and our last couple in Chicago, check out the gallery or this Flickr set.

Darek speaking with the enchanted mango forest keepers at El Coro, Baja Sur Mexico

Our Baja findings

  • That Baja is a wonderland for adventuresome people seeking meaningful connections with land and people — Paleo Farm Adventures will be epic when we host our first adventure.
  • That being stewards of the land and its flora and fauna is the highest, most rewarding and yet most basic calling. We got a real taste of that true calling–the grit, the empathy, the awareness, and the presence that one can cultivate pursuing the back-to-the-land life.
  • That community is key for us. How we’ll find a balance between farming and community is still TBD.
  • We met some key characters along the way (soul-mates even!) and were faced with tests of our instincts, our nerves, our character. We passed!
  • That we’re happy to be following our hearts and deferring to feeling rather than solely analyzing/planning to address life decisions.

Darek demoing ninja skills at a Saturday park WOD with Dog House CF

Speaking of community

Getting to be a part of a CrossFit community again is also making life pretty sweet. Thanks to an old friend, Darek and I found Dog House CrossFit near our house. It’s a new community gym with solid standards, good Olympic lifting coaching and friendly, open, group cohesion that we fell right into. I’ve helped them do their first informal Paleo Challenge and pig-share and they’ve helped nurse us back to fitness from our mango-addicted, beach-bumming, “it’s too hot to squat” Baja ways. I couldn’t ask for more on that front.

What’s next for us? For HGS? I rode a big wave of word of mouth through my heyday in south bay LA and am hoping to find my way back into the network I developed in Chicago last winter. I have some ideas for my next project. I’ve been experimenting on the Dog House crew with some real-food products and education ideas.

Elbow-deep in pasture-raised pork, rendering fat for heart-healthy lard. Man did I miss quality meat in Baja!

I’m knee-deep in real-food and community networking in Chicago: permaculture, Transition, CrossFit, WAPF; real-food groups are more abundant than the last time I was here! Darek is working on organizing Ninja Warrior Nights with local gyms to start developing a parkour-style community in the area. It’s looking to be another fun stint in the Windy City.

In action: I demo proper coconut cracking technique at the Primal Chicagoans Meetup for the Mark’s Daily Apple Grokfeast competition for $1,500 in US Wellness Meats credit. Check out the MDA post from today and the awesome infographic by one of our members. I’ll be posting the voting link when it’s up :)

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Digging holes

Bamboo propagation: cut between nodes, bury ~2cm below compost and cover with mulch

Digging holes to propagate bamboo and help plant fruit and nut starts I pondered some potential aphorisms applicable to more than just hole-digging – potentially to life in general.

  • Digging deep is harder than digging wide
  • Digging wide is easier, sometimes necessary, but doesn’t get you deeper
  • Don’t invite dirt back into your hole
  • Like most things worth doing (other than perhaps a CrossFit WOD) planting trees should not be done for time
  • Know when it’s quitting time
  • Wielding a pick axe is awesome
  • Digging alone can be rewarding sometimes, but is more fun with friends

First tree planted all by myself: a mango tree for Darek

How to dig a good hole for a tree:

  • Dig a hole 3′ in diameter and the same depth.
  • Fill with organic matter (layers of compost, mulch, poop, etc.) to about 1′ below surface
  • Water the hole. Jump on it; it’s done when it’s squishy
  • Fill the remainder with dirt and more above ground high enough so that the base of the trunk of the baby tree is about 6″ above ground level. You don’t want the trunk watered; you want to roots watered.
  • Dig tiny hole the shape of the sapling’s potting and plop it in. Cover a bit more.
  • Create a bulls eye shape like in the picture with a little ring around it. Plant stuff in the ring to take advantage of the watering and improve soil.
  • Follow watering suggestions for the plant and region.
  • Create shade structure for baby tree if necessary.

Pistachio and mac nut babies planted!

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Thoughts on meat and raw dairy in Baja

The most delicious beef liver I've had, fresh from a San Bartolo family farm

Much like in the states, the average grocery store doesn’t carry pastured local meats. Depending on the town is people may or may not get their meat and milk from local farmers. From the way the tiendas and grocers are stocked it looks like most of the meat is coming from factory farms. In even small La Ribera I’ve noticed people at the convenience and grocery store buying factory farm pasteurized/homogenized ‘milk’ and not so many dairy cows in the neighborhoods. In medium to larger towns there is usually a gringo presence, such as in Todos Santos, where boutique stores with higher prices carry raw milk and verified desert beef.

Fresh desert beef stew with garden veggies

The norm for meat as I understand it are either CAFO corn-fed lots found on mainland Mexico. While ‘Sonoran’ beef is supposed to be tasty, apparently it’s mostly corn/grain-fed. Local carnicerias may or may not carry what some affectionately call ‘desert beef’ – free-range cows that roam on hundreds of acres and browse on shrubbery. The alfalfa and feed bags we see sold on the highway-side and at local grocery and convenience stores which we understand may or may not be organic and is not verifiable.

Quality raw dairy is the same situation. Only by getting to know locals can you get raw cow dairy it seems. Dairy cows needing supplemental feed probably get the questionable alfalfa and corn supplements. There is only one seller of raw goat dairy at the farmer’s markets and they feed the same mystery alfalfa that the rest of the cows here seem to get as well as non-organic grain supplements.

Guess it was a beach day for desert cows in Los Barriles

Desert cow means it’s likely pesticide-free. Most families I’d guess use the tried and true method of culling rather than antibiotics, and GMO’s are illegal to sell here. So a strictly desert-fed cow will likely produce pretty healthy sources of meat.

Carniceria Alamo I found in a nearby town Los Barilles is run by a family that does their own butchering of their own cattle. From them I’ve had some of the best-tasting beef (if not a little lean and requiring some added butter) and raw cow’s milk. Probably most importantly being the most nutrient dense food of all, they and their herd have provided me with the best-tasting liver I’ve ever had. It tastes nothing like any other liver I’ve had and which I’ve been eating almost every day since I discovered it. Thanks to them I’ve become proficient at ordering all sorts of animal parts in Spanish.

I’d imagine rotational grazing of the desert could produce both more efficient grazing, better fertilization, and better fatty acid profile on the beef. If done properly it could also produce increased topsoil, biodiversity, and water retention during rainy season. However, the roaming cow is an icon of Baja. Putting one’s hazard lights on for oncoming traffic to let them know about a cow is a common courtesy.

Whitt's End Ranch: not rotationally grazed (hard to do with goats), but they still produce some damn tasty milk for kefir, yogurt and cheese!

So far I’ve seen two instances of rotational grazing – one yesterday with sheep grazing a line-irrigated alfalfa field that I spied in a valley in La Ribera. The other with sheep in Todos Santos using feathernet electric fencing grazing grass in a mango grove. According to our friend Logan who’s well connected in the farming-sphere, there isn’t a single organic rotational-grazed perennial grass-based beef or dairy operation in Baja though the market for it in high season would be formidable.

I can’t wait to find our spot to put our electric feathernet fencing to use for more than just chickens!

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