Butter - I guess you could say it was one of my favorite food groups. I certainly knew it wasn't a health food, but the rest of my diet was pretty healthy, so I allowed myself my butter. (Ok, fine --- AND my whipped cream.) Butter was my Elmira Gulch, always after me and my little dog. I did my best to stay away, but then she'd always show up with annoying persistence. But as Elmira would certainly agree, being bad is sometimes so darn good. If you are/were a butter-fiend, you know what I'm talking about.
One of my all time favorite vehicles for butter was artichokes.
My earliest memory of eating an artichoke came from my father's house. There was a small bowl of melted swirly butter, a giant bowl for the spent leaves, and a bowl of whole artichokes. I remember pulling one of the leaves off of the artichoke, and filling the leaf with butter like it was a nature-made spoon. I slurped it with gusto as I ate the meat off the leaf. I was in heaven. A messy, tasty heaven.
Even as the years passed, artichoke eating was always like this. Sometimes, I'd actually wear a bib to keep the butter off my clothes. Whenever the season for this vegetable arrived, my pants would always get noticeably tighter. But it was totally worth it. I even had one friend look at me uncomfortably as I made contented eating noises and ask, "Would you like to be alone with your dinner?" I loved them that much.
Which was one important reason that going vegan struck me as insane. Give up THAT?
Even before I gave up animal products, though, I learned a new way to enjoy artichokes from my good friends Stacey and JJ. (Look guys -- you're on the world wide interweb!) I was dubious, but figured I'd try it since they seemed to enjoy their version with equal gusto. And who am I to turn down a fantastic culinary experience?
Their way won me over, and I started cooking artichokes sans butter from then on. I will share this wonderful and simple way of preparing this flower bud so that you may enjoy your artichokes to the embarrassing degree that I do. They can run a little on the expensive side, but it's so worth it.
First off, only buy artichokes when they are still a tight flower bud. Once they start to open up, they are not as fresh.
Next, wash them and cut just a smidgen off of the bottom of the stalk, so that the bottom cut is green, but you still have a stalk to serve as a handle. Some people like to trim the ends of the leaves, though I never bother.
Next, put a couple of inches of water inside a big pot. Holding the artichoke stem down/bud up, pour some olive oil over each artichoke so that it settles itself inside the leaves. (sigh...) Then squeeze some fresh lemon juice from a real lemon (not a bottle -- very important!) over the top. Put the discarded lemons into the water and then place a steamer basket on top of the lemons and water. Place the artichokes bud-side down on the steamer basket (or on their side, if that doesn't work) and put a lid on the pot.
Now boil the water to steam the artichokes. I've never timed it, but it seems to take around 1/2 an hour to cook them thoroughly. You will need to pour more water in (I have a boiling teakettle at the ready) or all of your water will evaporate and burn the pot/artichokes. I usually pour in more water at least once or twice during the whole steaming process. If they are resting on their side, I'll usually turn them over halfway through cooking.
You'll know when the artichokes are done when you can pull off one of the outside leaves with no effort. Even if there is the slightest resistance, they're not ready. They should just fall off when you pull them. (I use a pair of tongs to do this, not my lily-white hands.) It's advisable to test it often: you don't want your artichoke raw or crunchy, but you don't want them overdone and soupy either.
Ready to enjoy? Then pull off an outer leaf, turn it upside down, and put most of the leaf in your mouth, pulling all the meat off with your teeth in one fell swoop. Discard the leaf and go on to the next! (You'll definitely want a discard bowl. The leaves will start to pile up!)
Once you get to the center of the artichoke, the leaves will become less meaty. You'll know it when you get there.
Now you're ready for the heart, you lucky-duck. Pull all the remaining leaves and "fuzz" out and you are left with the gorgeous heart. I actually just eat it as is, but you may be more refined and use a fork and knife.
So there you have it. No butter needed! The taste is subtle yet succulent at the same time and slightly lemony. You've got to try it to believe it. See ya, Elmira.
You may have recipes or foods like this that seem to haunt you persistently. But you might surprise yourself with a simple substitution or a new recipe. If a butter-fiend could happily turn her back on butter and find her way back to the Merry Old Land of Oz, then I suspect you might be able to bid adieu to whatever animal-unfriendly food is holding fast to your heart. And "fiend" is only one letter away from "friend." Instead enjoying a food that is fiendish to animals, consider one that is friendly. It's not a big leap! Just one letter! You're so close!
So. What is/was your Elmira Gulch?