The Butcher, the Baker, the Neighborhood Maker


Last April, while Sean and I were touring South East Asia, he asked if I had any book recommendations. We were in Times Square Berjaya in Kuala Lumpur, wandering around the giant Border’s bookstore, and my eyes lit upon a copy of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I hadn’t read it myself, but every one I knew who had described it as “life changing.” 

“I hear this one’s good,” I said.

Recommending that book to him was one of the worst mistakes I’ve ever made. 

I kid, I kid. I’ve gained much from Sean’s now-constant diatribes against corn, processed food, and chain supermarkets. I’ve become much more careful about what I buy and where I buy it from. I use TESCO less and less, mostly for dry goods. We take day trips to farmer’s markets for our produce and our meat and fish now come from the butcher shop and the fish market. What has two thumbs and never knew that meat from shops was cheaper and more delicious than packaged slabs from the supermarket? This gal. 

The fruits of a farmer’s market haul: quinoa, zucchini, pepper, lentil, and basil stew. 

I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve been having. And to think that for my parents’ generation, nutrient-poor processed food was synonymous with technology and progress. I’m tooling around town like my Italian grandmothers, taking whole afternoons to do the shopping. I’ve become fond of The Feed Bag, an organic shop specializing in grains, as well as the farmer’s market near the Harcourt Luas Station. I like that there are less people in those places and that the people who run them have begun to recognize me.

It sure helps a new girl feel like part of things in a new city. 

Perhaps my favorite stop on the Grocery Tour is Whelan’s Butcher. It’s a small shop, selling fish as well as fowl, beast, pig knuckles, and tripe. The shop’s storefront is wooden, painted red, with the name of the establishment printed in uncial script. It’s run by one Mr. Paddy Whelan.

I’m becoming very fond of Mr. Whelan. He’s kind, chatty, and helpful to the point that when he doesn’t have what I’m after, he improvises. Case in point: last week’s chicken roast called for a 12-piece frying chicken. He’d never heard of such a thing – perhaps “frying chicken” is an American term – but asked if a whole chicken cut up would do. It would. Out came a fresh free range chicken and out came his giant knife. Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. Served. And, later, delicious. 

I popped in today for some fish – it was my evil plan to create a dinner so unbelievably healthy that it would erase my past 30 years of gluttony. Mwa-ha-ha. The shopping list: 1 lb. of kale, 1 lemon, 3 yams, 3 Rooster potatoes, strawberries, and two fat salmon steaks. 

It was only myself and Mr. Whelan in the shop today, his last customer leaving as I entered. Outside, the weather was disgusting – all of the weekend’s fluffy snow washed away by sheets of freezing rain. 

“Hello, Mr. Whelan,” I said. “How are you?”

“I’m well, thank you. And how’s about yourself?”

“I’m good! Thank you. How is your salmon today?”

“It’s fresh, a-right,” 

“I’d like two pieces, please.” 

“Will I give you the pieces from the top or from the tail?”

“From the top, please.”

“Grand. This thickness?”

“That’s great. By the way, Mr. Whelan, the chicken you cut up for me last time was just perfect.”

“Ah, is that so? I’m glad to hear it.” 

Back at home, I prepped my ingredients. The two slabs of salmon were each rubbed with olive oil, salt, and pepper and topped with thin slices of lemon before being wrapped in packets of foil and popped into the oven. The yams and rooster potatoes were peeled and boiled, then mashed with a cup of the reserved starchy water, a dainty pat of Kerrygold butter, a lash of low-fat milk, a couple pinches of salt and several hearty dashes of black pepper. The kale was deveined and tossed into the steamer. But the plot really thickened when I rummaged through my cupboard and produced bottles of turmeric, cumin, and the remains of a bag of quinoa ….

Dinner is served. 

Strawberries and rooiboos tea for dessert. 

Delicious, but perhaps I overdid it when I took a Cod Liver Oil capsule with my meal … too much healthiness makes me hallucinate … am now harboring feelings of guilt and loss. Who am I and what have I done with me? Someone get me a box of Stove Top Stuffing and a Hostess cupcake, quick.

This post has been brought to you by WanderFood Wednesday. 

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. pattycakesmix says:

    It makes such a difference when the food you eat is fresh! I made the mistake of being lax in my choice of salsa for a meal and while it didn’t ruin it for others eating, it certainly put a damper on my experience with the food. Note to all: Paul Newman does not equal a tasty condiment!
    Good for you Liv!

  2. ieatmypigeon says:

    It really does! I was amazed when I had fish market salmon for the first time; I couldn’t believe the difference in quality. One of Sean’s friends came to Thanksgiving dinner last November. Since I couldn’t find Stove Top stuffing or Durkee’s French Fried onions, I made my own.

    “Now keep in mind, these are just homemade,” I said when Eoin and Sean sat down to eat. “I couldn’t find the brands we usually use.”

    Eoin was amazed that I’d apologize for such a thing – serving homemade over store bought! It made me think that in America, processed foods are so popular that people our age have fond memories of brands! It really got me thinking. Even if I do like Bisquick pancakes best of all!

  3. jessiev says:

    that looks so yummy. i LOVE those whole grains.. and it drives me crazy to see people buy (and eat) that processed food. UGH.

  4. Wanderluster says:

    I just ate 5 pieces of black licorice. And now I feel totally guilty.

    I love Michael Pollan’s books and it’s wonderful that you’re moving in such a healthy direction!

  5. Kao says:

    You keep making me hungry. it is 8 am and I am craving salmon :/

  6. oc2seattle says:

    I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma too and it certainly was a game changer. I was especially upset by the organic CAFOs. Luckily, we have awesome year round farmer’s markets in Seattle (as you know), because once you have organic eggs fresh from a local farm you can never go back 😉

  7. Mara says:

    That book has kind of “ruined” my life too – in the same way it’s done yours. Shopping for food is in no way a simple experience and my children now know to look for high fructose corn syrup on labels.

    That kale sure looks yummy though. I’m the only one around these parts who will eat kale (unless I cut it up pretty small and hide it in vegetable soup. And even then they tend to fish it out and wave it around on their spoons crying “what’s this!?”)

  8. expat on the go says:

    It looks delicious! Keep eating well – you are what you eat! Homemade is well worth it – much better than the ‘brands’. After living in Paris, France for 3 years, I’m even obsessed about the seasonal stuff (ie: tomatoes, pumpkins in the fall; asparagus in the spring, etc…). It sure makes a difference for taste – and they should be grown nearby.
    I haven’t read the book, but will take it out from the library.

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