Friday, January 14, 2011

Roasting Bones

A few months ago, a letter to my favorite advice columnist came in from a woman who was in the midst of paying off some massive debts. She had a payment plan and a four-year timeline; her question revolved around how to keep herself happy in that time, when all of her money was going to debt payment and she had none whatsoever left over to do anything "fun".

The letter itself wasn't as memorable as something in the comments: the columnist advised her to continue to eat healthily, among other things. A lively debate ensued about how one could 'eat healthy' on such a tight budget. For the record, I came down on the side of "you can, but it's hard: most supermarket food and vitually all 'cheap' food is either bad for you or not actively good for you, and it's uniformly tasteless" - which I still believe is true: most "inexpensive" produce in American supermarkets is trucked in from across the continent or even the world, and as it is so often GM food that was harvested before it was truly ripe, it tends to lack flavor and has a lower nutritional value than fresher, more local produce.

One person made this comment, that has stuck with me: "it's relatively inexpensive to go to a butcher's and buy some mid-range meat cuts still on the bone. Freeze the meat in single-serve portions and use as you need it. Roast the bones and use it to make soup stock, and freeze that."

It is true that a well-made stock from fats, spices, vegetables and roasted animal bones is miles tastier than a few cubes of concentrated chemical flavor dumped from a box into boiling water. The taste of a real stock has depth and character. In many ways, it's transcendental, creating something beautiful from otherwise functional, flavorless parts.


I have a lot of free time. I really do. In that regard, I am deeply grateful for my good fortune, even knowing that eventually it will end and I'll be just as busy as the rest of the world. However, even with all my copious hours of free time, I don't have the time to roast the bones of a butcher's cut of meat to make stock. I can't imagine that anyone working a more demanding job would have such time. Does anyone actually do this? Does anyone actually have the time to do this?

What got me thinking wasn't the actual act of roasting bones, but the sort of personality who does, in fact, do so. You know who I mean: that person who always has it together, who always gets everything done and "oh, I had time to spare so I trained for a marathon!", who has the time to read up on and put to active use all the tidbits of advice we're bombarded with online - the one who knows all sorts of weird grammar rules, who knows about nutrition and actually follows it, who works out without any drama four times a week, who never touches caffeine and who has read all those books you wish you had time to read.

A lot of people think I already am that person: I am writing this today to assure you that I am not. Back in August we were in Japan on transit to the USA. We all woke up, had coffee and breakfast, and one of our hosts (they're an engaged couple) said he was heading out - he wanted to get there with enough time to grab another coffee at Doutor and clear his head before work. The other woman and I looked at each other and laughed: we are both the sorts who rush out with no time to spare, probably running five minutes late, grabbing things willy-nilly and most likely forgetting something. We never have time to "have a coffee and clear our head" before class. Our partners, however, do. Brendan consistently (not always, but often enough) leaves a half hour or more before he actually has to and gets a coffee at Dante or Ikari near the office where he'll be teaching. I run out 55 minutes before class when it takes 60 to get there, pray I grab the train I need and barrel into class without that time cushion. I might relax a bit afterwards, but never, ever beforehand.

And that's just it: I want to be the woman who roasts bones to make meat stock because it's healthier, more environmentally sound, more honest (if I'm going to eat an animal that somebody killed, shouldn't I consume as much of it as possible rather than wasting something that was once a living thing?) and tastes better. I want to be the woman who arrives in the right neighborhood a half hour early and can get coffee and a scone.

Unfortunately, I am Normal People. Knowing I should do something doesn't mean I actually do it. There are still little silver-wrapped cubes of bullion in my kitchen.

Forcing yourself to be That Person requires more than knowing you should go to the butcher's to buy fresh meat and bones. It requires changing ingrown habits so that you wouldn't consider not going to the butcher's.

In order to be the person who roasts bones, you have to roast your own bones.

That''s what I'd like to start doing this year. Perhaps not literally making my own meat stock, but changing hard-clinging habits that aren't doing me any good. Of course, to actually do that I need some clear-cut goals, like Brendan's goal of reading 40 full-length books in one year, or Craig, the photographer and photoblogger who committed to writing a photo tip every day for a year.

What are those goals going to be? Well I'm a little late to the New Year's Bandwagon, and I'll have to think some more about that (see, the procrastination is already setting in). Some things on my preliminary list are:

- Cook healthier, more local and more "complete" food...more often
- Commit to getting some sort of real exercise at least four times a week
- Take another Chinese course (but not at Shi-da) and make some concrete improvements
- Become a better photographer (taking a class is not realistic this year)
- Read at least one weighty book per month
- Plan and successfully execute a trip to Turkey to trace my Armenian roots (many of you don't know this but on my mother's side I am Armenian from Mousa Dagh and my family settled in America after the genocide)...and write about it
- Finally obtain a real, recognized teaching certificate
- Make concrete steps towards entering a Master's degree program in 2012 (this one worries me, because I can't actually afford graduate school and don't want to live like a student in terms of income again, but if this is going to be my career, I will need it)
- Blog more consistently - perhaps enter NaBloPoMo to get into the habit?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You know, I was thinking - someone who is short on cash because he/she is paying off debt, may also be short on time (that is, if the person is working two jobs). (Of course, if the person is NOT working two jobs but has no money for "extra stuff," then in theory he/she would have MORE time.)

My husband and I eat and cook whole foods, and we still don't roast our own soup bones. I'm sure it tastes wonderful to do that, but no. I would want to do it in bulk, and we simply don't have the space.

Eating healthier can be more expensive, but I've found it's really not *that* bad, particularly if you're single or in a couple. Fresh produce from the farmer's market is usually the same price, or sometimes cheaper than the grocery store (at least, around here), and really, if she follows Michael Pollon and makes "mostly vegetables" that will also save money.

Free range, organic meat from a butcher is expensive. However, that's more of an ethical choice than a health choice.

Real Simple has some great recipes for making whole foods on a (time) budget.