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Monday, August 15, 2011

basil pesto

As I mentioned last week, this here little blog is now adhering to the concept of Meatless Mondays.

I have decided to start buying free-range, organic, grass-fed beef and chicken, and it's not as cheap as buying the equivalent meat in a supermarket or at Costco. However, here's the thing. The meat at Costco and the supermarket isn't the equivalent. Once I started reading about feed lots and factory farms and the stuff that the animals consume (as in cheep feed, antibiotics, and hormones) I decided I just can't give that stuff to my kids.

I am not so much worried about the chances of them dying of e coli or mad cow disease. I realize that the chances are very slim, and there are slim chances that they could die form anything at any moment. Lightning might strike one, or a plane could crash. If I lived my life worried about the things that could happen, I would have them all stuck in the house, wrapped in bubble wrap and eating only organic water chestnuts.

I am more concerned about the things that will happen over time. And my kids have a lot of time left for things to build up in their systems. (Let alone all the things building up in our ecosystems). Studies are showing that kids are hitting puberty earlier and earlier (thanks, in part, to hormones in the milk and meat), which leads to problems physically and socially. Doctors are finding kids who are obese, and yet malnourished (thanks, in part, to food that is primarily made of soy and corn... and yes, even cows are primarily made of soy and corn). A huge percentage of the food we eat is processed and sold by a very few companies, with very few ingredients. We are also in a race to keep developing new antibiotics faster than the diseases are developing resistance to them. The diet the food animals are being fed is so different than the diet they would have had naturally that the animals constantly get sick. Rather than change the diet, though, the factory farms just treat the sickness, by adding antibiotics right into the very food that weakens the animals in the first place. I don't want my kids' bodies to have a baseline of antibiotics already in their systems from the meat they eat. I want them to be able to fight disease.

There are so many ways to fight the problems in our food supply. One is to eat more fruits and veggies than we are currently eating. Another is to avoid the empty calories and processed foods that we are inundated with. We need to eat a bigger variety of foods, and we need to be careful about where we get the food, in order to avoid eating pesticides, antibiotics, meat from diseased animals, and chemicals.

One of the things I am focusing on is eating better meat. However, I do realize that it costs more. I am glad it does, because I find something wrong with 50 chicken nuggets for $9.99. That can't be quality food. I am willing to pay the money that the farmer requires to keep his livestock healthy and happy. I don't think $1.99 a pound is a bargain when I think about what I got for my $1.99.

I haven't found a tree (organic or otherwise) that grows money, however.  I can't afford to buy great meat as much as I was able to buy bad meat. And so, we will eat less meat.

I had a neighbor years ago who had moved here from Afghanistan. As she was preparing food for an Eid celebration, she mentioned to me that she would be cooking different dishes than she usually feeds her family. She said, "This is a party to celebrate the end of a month of fasting. I will have to honor my guests by serving them meat. Ordinarily we don't eat much meat."

I think I need to readjust my way of thinking to be more like that. Meat is a luxury. I don't plan to become a vegetarian, but I don't need to eat meat at every meal. It can become a special food. I don't plan to fast every day for a month either, but I am sure that the more I go without meat, the more I will appreciate it when I eat it.

I am also not going to make a huge stink about it. I won't turn away dinner at a friend's house if she buys her chicken breasts at Costco. I won't avoid restaurants (although I may opt for meatless entrees). As it is, though, I have this huge box of vegetables to eat my way though every week, so I am not going to restaurants much these days anyway!

And so, Meatless Mondays. I will certainly have more meatless days than just Monday. I just want to make sure that at least once a week we eat no meat. I figure if I make a point to do it on Monday, and I happen to eat meatlessly any other days, all the better.

There we have it. The long-winded version of why I made pesto. But wait! There are other reasons to make pesto. Don't do it because you are denying yourself meat. Do it because it is delicious, versatile, and easy. Do it because it freezes well, so you can have quick delicious meals any weeknight you want. Do it because basil is the food of the gods, and there could never be enough ways to enjoy it.

Basil Pesto
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup cashews or pine nuts (I happened to have cashews on hand, and although they have different tastes, both work well)
2/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Place the basil, garlic, and nuts in a food processor and pulse until it is chopped.
Add the oil. (If you plan to freeze it to use later, only add 1/2 cup of the oil at this point. If you are going to use it right away, add it all). Add salt and pepper and cheese and pulse until it is smooth.

If you are going to freeze it, put it in a airtight container, and pour the rest of the oil on top (this will help it keep the beautiful bright green color, and keep it fresher).

The pesto works great with pasta, on pizza, or spread on crostini. You can also use it to flavor chicken or fish. On Tuesday.

I used my pesto to make a pizza. I used this pizza crust recipe. After rolling out the dough, spread a thin layer of the pesto over it. Top it with fresh mozzarella slices and slices of ripe tomatoes.

You can grill it (like I did) or cook it in the oven. Either way, it's a little slice of heaven.