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Uncle Dave's Cow: And Other Whole Animals My Freezer Has Known Paperback – October 23, 2012
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Seattle-dweller Leslie Miller gives a lesson on bringing a bit of farm life to urban homes, starting with meat. She details, in a funny, friendly manner, how to pick, store, prep and cook a whole animal's worth of meat. ---Seattle Times
About the Author
Leslie Miller is the editor of (and contributor to) Women Who Eat: A New Generation on the Glory of Food (Seal Press, 2003) and the co-author, with James Beard-nominated chef and restaurateur Ethan Stowell, of Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2010), as well as numerous essays and books on non-food-related topics. She also recently compiled and edited a collection of recipes from top chefs along the West Coast showcasing tree fruit for fellow Skipstone title, From Tree to Table.
Miller teaches editing and writing workshops through Richard Hugo House and Editorial Freelancers Association, and also teaches advanced editing at the University of Washington. A frequent contributor to NW Palate Magazine, her food reviews, articles, and features have also appeared in Beer West magazine, Bitch magazine, TimeOut New York, and Redbook. An acquisitions and developmental editor for years, Miller is partner in the editorial and writing company Girl Friday Productions, and is currently collaborating on a cookbook related to sustainable fish and seafood.
Top customer reviews
Luckily, I didn't have to worry about that with Uncle Dave's Cow. From the very beginning, the book captured my attention about a subject that has the potential to be uncomfortable (and, let's face it, a little gross), and made the information presented very entertaining and readable in the process. (Whew.)
Far from being sugar-coated, Miller makes a very personal and very compelling argument for buying sustainable, locally-produced meat. She says, with humor, that the spoiler alert in any of this sourcing is that the animal does end up dead for your consumption. But, she argues, with local meat bought in bulk, you get to know *how* the animal lived, and are more grateful for it as a result, not to mention more in control of what you and your family consume. No one can argue that the meat processing system is flawed -- antibiotics, poor environmental conditions, and pink slime are all representative of that -- and going all the way around it is the journey Miller took with her own choices, and in Uncle Dave's Cow, she shares that journey with the world.
The first half of the book is anecdotal and informational. Miller shares her process of discovery, and addresses many of the things that you need to know to start buying whole animals for meat, such as storage (which needs to be considerable), what cuts to buy, how your family will react, and how to determine whether buying whole animals is right for your situation and lifestyle. Again, she handles the potentially ponderous topic with personal reflections, peppered with information you need to know, and a charming voice of experience. (I know another reviewer said to skip the first half, but if you're new to the concept or you just want to be entertained, it's a valuable read, and worth the time taken to read it.)
In the second half, broken down by animal type, Miller goes into great depth so that you can make an informed decision on what animal to buy for your needs. In the cow section, for instance, she explains the various breeds, cuts, and processing methods that you'll encounter while looking for an animal, and even breaks down the potential costs so that you can see ahead of time how much of an investment you'll likely be making. (Of course that varies by region, but at least you'll have a ballpark idea.)
From the information section, Miller moves into recipes for your purchases. Almost all of them look really good, though I haven't had a chance to try any of them yet. (My local supplier went out of business just weeks before this book arrived; I'm trying to source another now.)
The book includes sections on:
* Goats (including a recipe for Intolerant Goat Balls, which, I'm ashamed to admit, makes me giggle like a fifteen-year-old boy.)
* and Lamb.
...which should cover most of the most common red-meat options for most of the US. I was a little surprised not to see a section on chicken, since that tends to be so much more readily available, even in urban areas. (Maybe she'll write a follow-up/sequel? Please, Leslie?)
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the charming layout of the book, too, by the way. The illustrations add a lot to the "feel" of the book, and offer very helpful information, as in the case of the section headers, which show rough "maps" of where each cut of meat comes from on each animal. If you've wondered what the difference is between short loin beef and flank steak -- you'll know more when you study the illustrations. Ayun Halliday (of East Village Inky fame) did a great job with them.
This book is not for vegans, obviously. And if you already know a lot about buying whole animals, you probably won't find anything new here (but may still be entertained, and find some new recipes). But for those of us who are just now considering buying a freezer and going, well, *whole-hog*, it's a great primer on how to get started, and can keep you from making common mistakes. I didn't have to buy this copy (thank you, Skipstone!), but I have a few people I'm picking up copies for as gifts, so I can totally recommend it.
However, while the author scorns Pollen & Kingsolver's high ideals and tries to paint herself as a normal person like the rest of us, she has her moments where I want to punch her for her self righteousness. The most infuriating incident was when she described a busy time in her life where she found a package of hot dogs in her fridge that she gave to her kids for dinner. Her boy asked if it was made from "their" meat and she says, "Ah the guilt!... I was a terrible mother." She then says she "took the time to sit down and look him in the eye. 'It was made by a Seattle company, though...'". After that, she comes to her mommy realization that it's ok that not every piece of meat on their plate came from their stock, because as long as she got her kid to think about where his meat comes from it's ok. I can't even tell you how irritated I was by this whole scenario.
The second half of the book is better because it gets down to the practical stuff-- what types of cuts you can get and recipes to make with them. There is definitely good information in here and it's what saved this book from getting only one star. As someone who lives in the Seattle area where the author lives, it would have been nice to have a list of local farms or farmers that she has used or likes from her research. For heavens sake, she talks enough about how many places she's visited that she could have passed on that information. Personally, I'm lucky to have a local butcher in Auburn, WA who is beyond fantastic and who also sells whole butchered animals. Should you be looking for someone in this area, I highly recommend the Proper British Bacon & Meats company.
Honestly, this book could have been said in exactly one sentence: Buy a whole cow (or maybe a half or a quarter), stick it in a big freezer, then thaw and cook as wanted. I did not need to waste 223 pages of my time to figure that one out myself.