June 7, 2013

In Praise of Pork Fatback

Yep, you read the title right. The sole purpose of this post is to appreciate pork fatback.

Despite living in the Midwest for 40 years, where a great quantity of pork is produced, I never saw/noticed pork fatback in the meat department until I was living out here in Nevada and living on whole foods.

What I noticed first was that they basically give it away. The prices must barely cover the labor and packaging costs, but I guess they'd be trimming the pricier meat cuts anyhow. After I became enchanted with it and learned how it works best for me I chatted with a few ladies and found it's popular in Hispanic cuisine so they're probably offering it due to local demand.

I just realized this instant that I forgot to take a picture of some I bought yesterday. The next time I buy it I'll take a pic and insert it into this post. It's not a uniform, cookie-cutter item, but the best general description is small irregular strips/pieces of pork fat with variable amounts of meat scraps.

Sometimes there's a surprising amount of meat in there too--yesterday I bought 2 small packages for a total of 27 cents which was more than enough for 6 nice portions that I'll describe in more detail later. Like I said, nearly free. One of the packages had a surprise in the middle--a small pork cutlet that would have cost a couple dollars in another package but was probably judged too small.

As a single, I typically break packages of meat up into individual portions and freeze them. If I buy fatback at the same time I add some pieces to each meat portion. I've also frozen separate portions of meat and fatback and just defrosted both so I do whatever's more convenient at the time.

I use the fatback almost exactly the way I used to use bacon and/or butter, but the win-win is that I actually like the flavor of fatback better and it also allows me to buy more produce with the savings over bacon. I've gradually shifted my daily cooking routine to make more and more use of the fatback. If I'm having meat, particularly with vegetables, I usually season the pan with a portion of fatback. What I call a portion would probably be the equivalent of 3 strips of bacon in volume. If I'm not having meat and the main dish is eggs and/or vegetables, I season the pan with lard from the fridge.

Anyhow, some pieces are quite flat and "thick bacon" thin, and others are twice that thick and look like trimmings from the outside of a roast. The pieces have a wide range of sizes too, with some taking half a medium skillet but most fairly small and some tiny. When I cook the fatback, I do my best to equalize the thickness of the pieces by slicing the thicker ones.

I render the lard out of the fatback, pouring it out a couple times as I fry the fat/meat pieces to a wonderful golden brown crisp. It's more tender than bacon as it's thicker, and I've found I like the flavor much better because it's uncured and has only the salt I sprinkle on it once cooked. The lard is refrigerated. In the Midwest I think they'd call what I make cracklings, which I remember my elderly mother in law making in Wisconsin.

The cracklings are fabulous as an appetizer while you're cooking your main dish or munching your salad. I use some or all of the rendered lard to cook the main dish, which for me is usually a mixture of meat and vegetables. If not used as an appetizer, meaning you have more patience than I, the cracklings are also very tasty crumbled over stir-fried veggies or meat/eggs.

Just as I've found that the vinegar and EVOO left over from my salad is a great sauce on my main dish, I've also found that the home-rendered lard is a tasty substitute for butter or mayo. I haven't yet mastered home-made mayo and don't want to use store bought, so the last time I had tuna I used some of my home-rendered lard to hold the tuna together in a salad with celery, cheese, tomato and green olives and I was delighted with the flavor.

In addition to no longer buying expensive bacon, my Kerrygold butter costs are way down as well and it's a preference decision rather than just money driven. The only caution I'd throw out is that I've always had low cholesterol. I assume anyone with a pattern of high cholesterol might want to do some experimenting and test the results before using it as a frequent menu item. My body's reaction has been very positive, better I believe with the fatback than the bacon and butter it replaced.

P.S. Did you notice my new mugshot at left? I didn't notice at first that my face looked shiny, but you know it's usually shiny now because it's over 100 outside and at least 80 inside because I don't like cool drafts. If you saw me in person, odds are my face would be moist. :-)

Anyhow, what struck me about the new pic is that I'm not the thinnest I've been since 2011--I'm not that far from it, though--but I believe I'm the healthiest I've been in 30 years despite the "avoid processed food" ups and downs I've had to describe here. It's been a struggle due to my binge eating history, but it's definitely been worth it.

May 13, 2013

About the Relative Importance of Food

If you thought my recent silence might mean I was having difficulties with my eating approach or health, I have good news--the opposite is true.

First, I have a story too funny not to share.

A little background: a month or 2 ago I ordered some water kefir grains and about 4 days ago I discontinued the daily brewing routine of water kefir (again.) I wasn't enjoying the kefir as much as I had a year ago and I decided I didn't want to be tied to a daily routine for something that wasn't proving delightful. Either my taste buds have changed or those grains didn't produce kefir as tasty as the ones I  had before (I was using the same ingredients otherwise.)

My practice has always been to rinse bottles, bowls, etc., in plain water. When I stopped brewing the water kefir I had a little juice left over so I put a little in some plain water in a well-rinsed seal-tight bottle and put it in the fridge to chill. As it happened, I had company and forgot about it and I just opened it today. To my surprise, there was a hiss when I opened it and it had become very light, slightly carbonated WATER KEFIR! Oh, I laughed so hard.

Anyhow, I've been doing very well eating meat, fruit and vegetables. About once per week after my 2 mugs of coffee--cream and honey--I decide to skip solid food that day. I am so "normal" the next morning that last week I realized at 8 pm I'd accidentally skipped for a second day. My rate of fat loss has picked up because I don't seem to eat any extra food after the skip days. But I do think one skip day per week is enough. I'm just about back to the best measurements I achieved on my first round of "paleo" and this time there's been no need for willpower, no cravings and no anxiety.

Since I haven't had to apply much energy to food management, I've been knitting and helping out with a new web site, NewsBacon. I've been enjoying it so much that food just isn't as important as it was. And that's good.

I hope you're also having the kind of spring that makes food management a natural part of your life rather than a focal point.

Oh, I almost forgot. About once every month or 2, I now have a treat day and my usual choice is to drink some Coke since most manufactured/baked treats have negative consequences but a tall glass of Coke doesn't seem to trigger any problems at all. For the first time since I began having weight issues, I'm able to savor how much I love the Coke and even have a 2nd glass if I wish. The next day I go back to drinking carbonated water with a wedge of lemon or lime and life is good.

April 23, 2013

The Blackout Was a Healthy Thing

For a 24 hour period I stayed off the web. I'm embarrassed to admit I got more done in one day than I had in the previous week.

Granted, it was an extraordinary week and I spent many hours browsing and chatting about the events in Boston and Texas. But still ...

I'm feeling great and eating healthy but it's time to look at how sedentary I've been lately. I was very active in March but somehow in April my primary exercise routine has involved my sitting muscles. ::-)

I did enough yesterday to feel ouchy in my back and a little stiff and tired in my  muscles--in other words, wonderful. Physical work is always great for my spirits.

Thanks to walking my dogs and tending my potted garden, plus parking in the outer fringes of parking lots, carrying my own laundry, groceries, etc., I get more exercise than most of my friends. Despite being 66 my muscles still respond vigorously to work and have good tone.

I certainly don't plan to stop knitting, reading, and engaging in online activity but I need to do a better job of keeping the body machine in motion and using those muscles.

April 21, 2013

Tragedy, Magnificence Experienced From a Distance

I've never mentioned it here but I was born in Massachusetts and lived there until I was eleven.

After travelling in many states and living in Wisconsin for 40 years I didn't usually mention New England unless I got to know someone fairly well and we were sharing life histories.

This past week, though, showed me that you never lose the bond with your childhood home. I'm a rabid fan of Reddit and my all-day TV channel is ESPN. I was browsing Reddit and had ESPN on in the background when the story about the bombing broke. Noticing quickly that a) reddit was way ahead of any news site and b) ESPN did an amazing job with their coverage, I stayed where I was.

I was pretty emotional but I was very pleased I had no immediate urge to hit the junk foods that used to be my kneejerk response to stress. My lifeline was something I discovered the next afternoon/evening, Reddit Real-Time. It was a group of people chatting online while gathering/sharing information, and one of the things shared was that you could listen to police scanners via the web. I am highly curious--that's actually an understatement--so of course I connected and  was listening with great interest to routine communications. 

I don't think I'd been listening 30 minutes yet when an officer reported a high-speed vehice had almost hit him head-on. Suddenly I found myself listening to a high-speed chase and then, the man who'd narrated events to that point reported guns fired and explosives. He was directing the officers on scene and said over the radio he was joining the fight--you could hear a mixture of danger-awareness and courage in his voice. 

Very soon, as the command post was asking for an update, a different and flustered voice came on and reported "officers down." Oh, man. The new voice gathered itself and did an admirable job of pulling communications back together but I was burning to know what had happened to the first guy (a sergeant I think.) I was relieved to hear later that there were police injuries but, unlike the MIT officer, there were no law enforcement fatalities at this scene.

After that hair-raising experience, I spent the rest of the evening with the TV on but muted, following the Reddit Real Time chat and listening to the scanner. Instead of listening to talking heads speculate, I was hearing about events directly on the scanner and following the chat. 

Last night I followed the same muted TV, Reddit chat and scanner routine and I was fascinated. Over and over, there were leads that came up empty so it was a surprise when an officer calmly reported they had the suspect located and under surveillance.

Again, I was profoundly impressed with the careful attention to detail the law enforcement group displayed in preparing and executing a plan to safely arrest the suspect.

I'm not sure of the timing any more, but somewhere in there I was also exposed to the devastation in Texas. Just as happened in Boston, heroes put their lives on the line to save others but in Texas a number of the heroes were killed. 

Finally, this morning I choked up repeatedly during the Red Sox pre-game ceremony honoring heroes, volunteers, law enforcement and those injured at the marathon. It was my catharsis and I was able to release much of the emotion I'd retained during the crises.

This week brought the flaws and magnificence of humans into sharp focus for me in a way that hadn't happened since 9/11. On that awful day, I hit the junk food hard but this time I found my comfort in the online community and that's a very good thing.

Now I'd be really pleased to write a post about how bored I am because nothing's happening. If we could please arrange that, that would be great.