Magic Beef

My grandmother, born and raised in Iowa, was convinced that there wasn’t any problem that couldn’t be solved over a good steak dinner.  She, of course, was horrified when I embraced vegetarianism for ten years.  In her mind, all the woes in my life could be easily explained by the lack of meat on my plate.  I have, over the years, gradually included meat protein back into my diet, but have struggled with the quality of meat available.  A steak from the store didn’t taste the same as the beef I remember growing up and sometime it was so bad it was inedible.  Information was leaking into the press about the less than stellar conditions of meat packing plants.  And what about all those hidden hormones and antibiotics?  Pass the broccoli please.

The great part about living in a small town is where all the edges overlap.  Not only is East Side Books a gem of a used bookstore, but the sons of owner Diane Doonan have begun selling natural local grass fed beef.  Eating locally has become the latest, and possibly the smartest, new food fad. Barbara Kingsolver took a recent departure from fiction writing to pen Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, her account of the year her family only ate what they grew and raised themselves or bought locally.  Her book is wonderfully interesting and opened a floodgate of interest in local eating, inspiring others to follow in her footsteps.  One example of these local food devotees are Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon, a couple living in the Northwest who made a year long commitment to eat foods grown and processed within 100-mile radius of their apartment.  They wrote about their experience in the book Plenty, which is in turn hilarious and thought provoking.

Although it would probably be challenging to sustain yourself on only locally raised food here in Bishop, we are fortunate to have resources such as the seasonal Saturday morning Farmer’s Market located in the parking lot of the Bishop City Park and the pick-your-own-organic-fruits-and-vegetables Apple Hill Ranch located just south of town in Wilkerson.  In the last couple of year, locals have begun raising the question: We see a lot of cattle grazing out in the fields surrounding Bishop, why is it we don’t have access to local dairy and beef products?  The Doonan family, certified organic alfalfa ranchers living north of town, asked that same question and decided to do something about it.  Last spring the industrious brothers Jake and Matt Doonan, ages 18 and 16, started a grass fed beef project to see if raising natural beef in the Owens Valley was an economically feasible industry.  They raised the livestock, found a small, clean processing plant, and secured buyers. (See contact email below for more information about this ongoing project.)

I was fortunate enough to purchase several 20 lb. boxes of their beef.  Having a freezer full of beef made me feel nostalgic for my grandmother.  Thinking of her, I thawed a roast and plopped it into my largest crockpot. (See Salsa Verde Beef recipe below.)  At dinner that night my husband took a forkful of roast, raised an eyebrow at me, and asked,”Where did you get this roast?”

“Why?” I asked.

“Taste it,” he said.

Could I possibly have messed up a simple roast? Again. With trepidation, I took a bite.  Flavor and richness danced a jig in my mouth.  Not only was it good, it was hands down the best beef I’d ever tasted.  “This is amazing,” I said.  I took another bite.  Better than the one before.  “This is magical.”  My husband didn’t answer.  He was too busy concentrating on his dinner.  Our girls, not big meat eaters, were so intrigued by our reaction that they asked to try some.

“This is good,” announced Clara.

“Really good,” said Emma with her mouth full. “This is Magic Beef.”

With giddy enthusiasm, I explained to the girls that the reason this beef was so magical was because it was raised locally and naturally.  “This cow used to be one of the cows grazing in fields just outside of town.”  Both girls looked at their plate in horror and leaned backwards as far as they could from the dinner table.  Apparently that was too much information for my soft “town” daughters.

Despite the fact that my girls are squeamish when their dinner becomes a bit too local, people are paying more attention to not only where their food comes from but the quality of their food.  Beef, pork, eggs, and dairy have gotten a bad rap in the past, but as more research is coming to light, the general public is discovering that meat and dairy products might not be the culprits behind America’s growing health and obesity issues.  In his book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser write of the devastation the fast food companies have wrecked on our health, landscape, and economics.  The chapter “What’s in the meat” may make you rethink eating fast food ever again.  Michael Pollen’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma explores how industrial farming and agricultural subsidies have greatly compromised the health of our nation.  It isn’t the beef that is killing us, or the poultry or eggs or dairy product, it is how these products are being raised and processed that is our health undoing.

My grandparents ate meat for lunch and dinner almost every day of their lives.  My grandmother pour cream over her cereal for breakfast.  Neither believed much in exercise.  But they didn’t believe in fast food either and never set foot in a McDonald’s or Burger King.  Cookies came from the oven and not the store.  Fruits and vegetables from the garden were canned or frozen, and eaten throughout the year.  Meals were an event, a ritual where everyone sat together at the table with a full place setting, three times a day, no matter what.  Both lived to be in their 80s.  Maybe there is something to be said for my grandmother’s steak theory after all.

We, at East Side Books, realize that one diet does not fit all. (See the blog What Exactly Is a Vegetarian?!?!?.) All you have to do is come in and check out our Food Issues Section where the above mentioned books are located along with many others, to see that what we eat is a complex and increasingly popular and important topic.  Stop by and raise your awareness today, and if you need any assistance in your search, please ask one of our staff for help.

The Doonan brothers’ natural grass fed beef project continues.  After the initial success last spring, the boys will be selling more local beef this Fall and Spring.  For more information you can contact them at

Below is my recipe for Salsa Verde Magic Beef and Magic Beef Stew with Dumplings.  We’d love to hear from you, so please share your own thoughts or your favorite meat recipe in the comments section below.

Salsa Verde Magic Beef

1 beef roast, any cut (preferable natural grass feed)

1 jar of salsa verde

1 or 2 onions, sliced (optional)

Place thawed roast into a crockpot. (Sometimes my roast isn’t thawed all the way…or at all depending on how well I planned ahead.  A frozen or partially frozen roast takes longer to cook.)  If using onions, toss onions over roast.  Pour salsa verde over roast and optional onions.  Set crockpot on Low and cook for 7 to 9 hours depending on the size of the roast.  Before serving, shred beef.  Serve with warm flour or corn tortillas, shredded green cabbage, grated cheese, red salsa, chopped cilantro, and sour cream.

Magic Beef Stew with Dumplings

1 pound or so of beef stew meat (preferable natural grass fed)

flour, salt, pepper, oil

1 chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, pressed

2 to 3 sliced carrots

4 diced red potatoes

1/2 bag frozen green beans

1 large can or 2 box cartons of beef broth

1/2 bottle of cheap red wine

pepper, marjoram, basil, parsley

baking powder, salt, milk

Put stew meat in plastic bag and toss with 3/4 cup of flour, and a dash of salt and pepper.  In a large dutch oven or large heavy bottomed pot, saute beef in oil until browned. Add onion, garlic, and carrots.  Cook until vegetables soften slightly.  Add beef broth and wine plus a healthy amount of pepper, marjoram, basil, and parsley.  Add potatoes. Let simmer uncovered on very low for many hours.

When 20 minutes away from eating, turn up stew temperature to bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, mix together 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1 1/2 tsp of baking soda, 3/4 tsp of salt, 1 1/2 tbsp of oil, and 1 cup milk.  When stew boils, add green beans.  When stew returns to a boil, drop dumpling dough on surface of stew.  Boil 10 minutes uncovered.  Cover and boil 10 more minutes.

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